Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

How The Other Half Loves

Alan Ayckbourn
Bill Kenwright
The Lowry
11 September 2017 to 16 September 2017

Tours like this used to be plentiful: a reasonably modern classic, a few TV faces, a competent director plus a keen producer and Bob’s your uncle for a lucrative set of dates nationwide.

Costs, timing and perhaps public taste being what they are, we now get far fewer of them, but there’s no doubting that a good one can liven up an otherwise so-so- run of shows. And this is a very good example of the genre.

Couple Ayckbourn’s social commentary, a wonderful cast and a director, Alan Strachan, who has been producing Ayckbourn shows since the Eighties, and the result is an unmitigated delight - despite a general treatment of women that probably wouldn’t be acceptable if the show had been written this year.

How The Other Half Loves is from what we’ll call Ayckbourn’s golden period of the late 60s-early 70s, when he was at his most inventive, his funniest, and his observations of admittedly middle-class society were at their most astute.

This was his tricksy period, when sets would be unusual and time would be a fluid element of the plot. Here two homes are mashed together on the stage - an upmarket, company-boss home with panelling, chandeliers and heavy decoration, and a young couple’s flat, with cheap furniture and playpen.

And, as in many of his early plays, there’s a mix of couples: absent-minded company boss and haughty wife, warring young couple with recent child, and pig-in-the-middle-manager and mousy wife.

The plot? Well, infidelity, argument and all-out war as the evening moves on, with the innocent parties stuck in the middle of clouds of lies and (sometimes) shouting and marital rows. In any other hands it would be a half-hour of EastEnders, but in Ayckbourn’s hands it is funny, more than a bit smart and so cleverly written that seeing two dinner parties on different nights with the same couples round the same dinner table in one scene is by no means a stretch.

And then there’s the general masterclass in comic timing from Robert Daws and Caroline Langrishe, Charlie Brooks and Leon Ockenden, and Matthew Cottle and Sara Crowe.

Daws as boss Foster perfects the silly-ass, distracted older man whose attempts to fix things - physical or emotional - usually end disastrously, completely missing the fact that his own, disdainful  wife (Langrishe), is part of the problem.

Ockenden and Brooks have obvious fun as the cocky middle-management lothario and harassed wife and mother respectively, and Sara Crowe reinforces her brilliance as a comic actress, playing the mousy wife in her hideous party dress with tremendous control. The revelation of the cast, though, is Matthew Cottle as her husband William, a 40 year old going on 60 as he patronises and chides the wife he treats like a child, and who apparently has such high blood pressure that just trying to take a cork out of a bottle can send his whole head, let alone his face, a vivid red colour in seconds...

Reviewer: Paul Genty

Comments

Comment by Robert Beale

My, how times have changed. Ayckbourn's gentle social commentary of the late 1960s now seems a throw-back to another world, when wives of all social groups were stay-at-homes and men of all varieties bossed them effortlessly around. It's not always a pretty sight, even in such a clever plot as this. I wouldn't rate the performances as highly as Paul does, as most seemed quite unsubtle - but the exception was Robert Daws, whose bumbling, unaware boss was so daft as to be almost real.