Prolific playwright Alan Ayckbourn is seeing another of his plays revived in London: this time it’s the turn of 1971 classic How the Other Half Loves, the story of two couples, the Fosters and the Phillips, in troubled marriages. Mrs Foster and Mr Phillips have been having an affair, and use another couple, the Featherstones, as an excuse. When the Fosters and the Phillips end up inviting the Featherstones to dinner on consecutive nights, chaos ensues as desperate measures are taken to ensure secrets are kept.
The strength of the play is the way in which Ayckbourn weaves time together, so the dinner parties which take place on different nights actually happen simultaneously on stage. I admire his skill a great deal, as he manages to pull off an incredibly complex feat successfully. On the down side, it does take a while to build up to this superlative scene and I thought the play overall was a bit long. I liked the set, which managed to convey both houses at once through the use of opposing colour schemes.
I must admit I didn’t find the central affair of the piece, between Jenny Seagrove’s Fiona and Jason Merrells’ Bob, very convincing. However, I really liked Nicholas Le Provost’s performance as Frank: he had all the best lines (I’m going to call toilet roll “bathroom stationery” from now on), and I also liked Tamsin Outhwaite as Bob’s wife Teresa, a worn-out new mother.
Considering the time in which it was written, the play is hardly a bastion of feminism and to be fair I wouldn’t expect it to be. Having said that, I was impressed with Gillian Wright’s character Mary Featherstone who, after being pushed around by her husband (Matthew Cottle’s William) for the duration of the play, eventually puts her foot down. I would have liked her to go further, to be honest, but even so I was inwardly cheering.
In some ways, this is a dated and old-fashioned play, but it’s still worth seeing for its clever structure. I did find it genuinely entertaining.