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How The Other Half Loves – Mill at Sonning

A visit to the Mill at Sonning begins with an excellent, leisurely, two-course meal, included in the ticket price, followed by a performance in the 215-seat theatre; this time an early (1969) Alan Ayckbourn comedy, seen in London in 1970 when it ran for 869 performances and starred Robert Morley as Frank.

How The Other Half Loves, Stuart Fox. Photo by Andreas Lambis.
How The Other Half Loves, Stuart Fox. Photo by Andreas Lambis.

The plot follows the consequences of an adulterous affair between a married man and his boss’s wife and their attempts to cover their tracks by roping in a third couple to be their alibi, resulting in a chain of misunderstandings, conflicts and revelations. Already Ayckbourn was experimenting with what could be achieved on stage and sets two rooms in the same acting area, including a ‘dinner party’ scene that takes place in the two rooms at the same time on consecutive nights and which can be hilarious.

The play has little of the dark humour of the playwright’s later plays and, over fifty years after its premiere, feels slightly dated, in spite of Malcolm Hebden’s fluent direction and a talented cast.

Stuart Fox is very amusing as ‘boss’ Frank Foster, bumbling around trying to find a screwdriver to repair his electric toothbrush, and failing to understand what is going on in his marriage! Julia Hills plays Fiona, his wife, suitably ‘distant’, whilst Ruth Gibson portrays Teresa Phillips as not being able to cope with married family life, let alone cooking dinner for guests without her toddler having a hand in the ingredients!

Her husband, Bob, is an extremely believable Damien Matthews. The third couple, down-at-heel, put upon, Mary (Emily Pithon) and William (Ben Porter) have perhaps the best-written roles giving both actors the space to develop their characterisations and show their motivations. William gradually reveals quite a nasty side to him as the play progresses in his attitude to wife Mary, at the same time as Mary begins to come out of her shell and begins to demonstrate how ‘the worm will turn’!

The composite set, portraying as I have already said, two rooms at the same time, has been cleverly designed by Michael Holt – one room being well decorated and furnished with style, the other being much less opulent and the various fights have been well directed by Alison de Burgh. Natalie Titchener’s costumes greatly aid the actors’ characters and the unobtrusive lighting is by Matthew Biss.

This is ideal after-dinner entertainment and a visit to The Mill at Sonning is one not to be missed. Recommended!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Meet three married couples. The Fosters – Frank & Fiona. The Philips – Bob & Teresa. And The Featherstones – William & Mary.

Frank employs Bob and William. Fiona is having an affair with Bob. Teresa is suspicious of Bob, who covers up his adultery by shoving the blame onto his colleague William.

William suspects Mary is having an affair. Fiona, to ward off Frank’s questioning, tells him that she has been comforting Mary, who also suspects that William is having an affair… Got that?


STUART FOX – Frank Foster
RUTH GIBSON – Teresa Phillips
JULIA HILLS – Fiona Foster
EMILY PITHON – Mary Featherstone
BEN PORTER – William Featherstone


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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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