Nobody Does It Better

Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, until Saturday.Nobody does it quite like him. Ayckbourn's way with words is a wonder.

David Henshall

Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, until Saturday.

Nobody does it quite like him. Ayckbourn's way with words is a wonder. Only he could make you believe in a crazy story like this. But you do. Just at the moment when you are about to say this is ridiculous, he reels you in with another carefully baited sentence that makes you laugh - and you are landed once again.

It's not just his way with words, it's the construction of his plays that is so cunning and clever, the quick switches of mood and tempo with only seconds between each neat quip and, in this case, the cascade of spur-of-the-moment lies that need even bigger porkies to get the guilty parties out of trouble. Temporarily.

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It is set in 1976, speaks pounds, shillings and pence language and takes a bit of time to warm up but once it gets the bit between its teeth it gallops on to an intriguing ending with a nice twist in its tail. You might call it a shoe-in.

It's very funny but not as dark as some of Ayckbourn's later work and introduces us to Greg and Ginny, fairly recently in love but he's already thinking wedding bells. Ginny's pretty smitten too but she has a problem - Philip, another lover, an older, married man who is inundating her with flowers, chocolates and phone calls.

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Ginny decides to visit Philip on a Sunday morning, knowing that his wife will be at church, and all set to put an end to the affair. She tells Greg she's going to see her parents. He, already mystified by the bouquets, the chocs, the strange, large pair of men's slippers under Ginny's bed and her equally strange stories about where these things are coming from, determines to chase after her and ask her dad for her hand in marriage.

He gets there before Ginny and is so nervous and inarticulate that Philip believes that Greg wants to marry his wife Sheila, who he fears may be seeing someone else and has not gone to church after all. When Ginny arrives and talks Philip into pretending he's her father, the fun really starts.

It's a great four-hander with Amy Humphreys as the Swinging Sixties, short-skirted girl with a bit of a past and Alexander Caine as her inexperienced blinded-by-love boyfriend who wouldn't understand the word infidelity if he tripped over it.

Tim Frances's Philip is a great bully of a businessman with lovely vague moments of indecision and funk and Mary Ryder's Sheila is a delight of bewildered harassment trying to make sense of this rather wicked madhouse.

David Henshall.

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