Sir Alan Ayckbourn, CBE, is a playwright we really don’t hear enough of in my opinion. With over seventy plays to his writing credit, it is surprising how little work seems to be on the London stage. This is a real shame as he has written some absolute corkers including the brilliant How the Other Half Loves which recently transferred to the
It is a Thursday morning in the autumn of 1969, and in two living rooms, the day has just begun. Frank Foster (Nicholas Le Prevost) and his wife Fiona (Jenny Seagrove) are sitting down to breakfast in their rather palatial surroundings as befitting Frank’s status within his organisation. They are a solid upper-middle class couple who have probably been married a bit too long but stay together out of habit or because of some lingering affection for each other. On the whole, they rattle through life together okay, but Frank is keen to know where his wife had gone the night before and why she had returned so late. Down the road in a more modest flat, Frank’s employee the gregarious Bob Phillips (Jason Merrells) is not living such a good life. Whilst he is dreaming of climbing the corporate ladder, his wife Teresa (Andrea Lowe) seems to have lost interest in things and is showing a lot of suspicion about her husband’s actions and particularly where he had been until the early hours of the morning. Both Bob and Fiona tell their respective spouse that they had spent the evening before in the company of, in Bob’s case, co-worker William Featherstone (Matthew Cottle), while Fiona claims to have been with William’s wife Mary (Gillian Wright). Can Bob and Fiona get away with their deception and what will be the significance of the Featherstone’s attendance at two dinner parties this week?
How the Other Half Loves is British farce at its absolute best and it all starts with Julie Godfrey’s wonderful set which manages to fit both Frank and Bob’s respective homes on the same stage at the same time. In itself this is a pretty neat trick but the fact that Julie makes it look so natural is really impressive. The set really comes into itself during the wonderful dinner parties scene when the Featherstones are at two separate dinner parties, in two different locations, on two different nights at exactly the same time. Which brings me on to the director. Apparently Alan Strachan has directed How the Other Half Loves before and is obviously familiar with the comical nature of the story. To be honest, Alan’s direction is spot on and with his fantastic cast he keeps the audience hooked from start to finish.
Speaking of the cast, what can I say? Six highly talented actors make the art of delivering great farce look easy. One of the most difficult things an actor can do is sit and not be noticed, yet as the action went from one house to the other, that’s precisely what the characters in the ‘non-active’ house managed to do. Each of the couples were really good, especially Nicholas Le Prevost and Jenny Seagrove who were the perfect British middle-class couple. Nicholas Le Prevost in particular was a wonderfully doddery man who bumbles through life never really sure where he is or what is going on around him. In a way I felt sorry for the character because he was almost the last of a certain breed of honourable men who wore a bowler hat to work and could always be relied on in a pinch. Jenny’s Fiona had some of the best lines which really made use of the ability of the English to say one thing out loud whilst, with a simple look or gesture communicating something totally different.
How the Other Half Loves is very much of its time and this can be a little off-putting, especially in the way that the male characters interact with the female ones. I think it’s highly unlikely that in this day and age a woman would be happy to make a cup of coffee when threatened with a belt, and I have to say William Featherstone was a pretty unlikely character as he discussed how he had put lots of hours into his wife, making her the woman she was today.
Overall, I really enjoyed How the Other Half Loves. I’m not certain that the very Englishness of the story translates perfectly for tourists but everyone around me in the theatre appeared to have a jolly good time and the applause at the end was long and heartfelt and served as a reminder to producers that the West End really is ready for a revival of farce as one of its main forms of entertainment.
Review by Terry Eastham
How the Other Half Loves
Duke of York’s Theatre
Booking from 7th July 2016