Review: How The Other Half Loves, by Alan Ayckbourn, Suffolk Summer Theatre, St Edmunds Hall, Southwold July 8-18, then Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, July 23-August 1

How The Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn staged by Suffolk Summer Theatres.(left to right) Michael

How The Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn staged by Suffolk Summer Theatres.(left to right) Michael Shaw, Rosanna Miles, Kate Middleton, Rick Savery & Eliza McClelland - Credit: Archant

The great thing about Alan Ayckbourn is that he knows people. How The Other Half Loves is one of Ayckbourn’s early classics, first performed in 1970.

Today it’s something of an enigma. At first glance it would appear to be very much of its time and as such this play should no longer work but it does.

It works because Ayckbourn is keen observer of society’s foibles and although the characters attitudes maybe rooted in the 1970s, the subject of sexual relations is timeless.

Suffolk Summer Theatres have wisely opted not to update the setting and played it as a period piece and this classic farce of marital manners opens their 35th season on the Suffolk coast.

Directed by David Harris, the cast display a satisfyingly light touch. Nothing is laboured. There are no knowing winks to the audience about 1970s attitudes to gender and marriage. Even the fashions and the furniture are not overdone.

Veteran designer Maurice Rubens, celebrating 25 years with the company, keeps everything clever and correct with his overlaid, two-rooms-in-one approach. The couples’ homes occupy the same space on stage. They have split tables and sofas. The decoration is suitably restrained. The tone from Harris and Rubens is that this is a tale about real people, living real lives.

It would be so easy to turn the ‘70s setting into a parody which the production team neatly sidesteps. Harris, recognising the wit and observation contained in Ayckbourn’s words, has no desire to turn this into an ironic homage to 1970s bad taste by making it a modern-day copy of The Confessions films.

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The casting is spot on. Michael Shaw generated huge laughs as the absent-minded Frank Foster while Kate Middleton made her stay-at-home mum Teresa Phillips believably real as she slowly became aware of her husband’s philandering.

Eliza McClelland displayed a wonderfully deft touch as Frank’s wife Fiona who neatly avoids the awkward questions when it becomes clear she is ‘the other woman’ in Teresa and Bob Phillips marriage.

How The Other Half Loves is a classic relationship comedy and by playing it straight has given us a crowd-pleasing start to a new summer season.

Andrew Clarke

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