This afternoon I went to the theatre in Bath with three friends – actually two of them I had never met before but by the time we arrived back home I was delighted to think of them as friends. We went to the Theatre Royal Bath where I had never been before, and which is absolutely delightful, and we went to see an Alan Ayckbourn play, How The Other Half Loves. It debuted in 1969 in Scarborough, but this production has transferred from London where it was a hit last year. It’s a farce about three couples; the wife of the boss has an affair with one of the male members of the office; the story in the play is about how suspicions are roused and in trying to divert attention, the wife of the other couple is supposed to be the one being adulterous….
There are two different plot-lines running on the stage simultaneous, the most complicated and difficult to act, and perhaps most successful to watch is the scene where the innocent couple are invited on successive nights to dinner with each of the other two couples all shown on the stage at the same time. All six actors are there, sitting round a dining table, with two different dinner parties happening before our eyes.
The cast of six were actors well-known for their TV work, Robert Daws, Caroline Langrishe, Matthew Cottle, Sara Crowe, Charlie Brooks and Leon Ockenden. To me the outstanding performance was from Matthew Cottle as the innocent husband, but I thought Robert Daws and Sara Crowe were also excellent. I really enjoyed the trip, however the play seemed very dated to me – well, obviously, it’s nearly fifty years old! it wasn’t so much the humour, the visual gags, or the farcical element, it was some of the attitudes of the characters were really no longer funny (if they ever were); the implied violence towards women (‘what would you do if your wife was unfaithful? ‘I would hit her’) the sexism, the paternalistic attitude, the idea that women were almost chattels of the male characters, just jarred. I couldn’t find those aspects of the play the least bit funny, but the way the characters tied themselves in knots of deceit and misunderstanding was fairly amusing. However it was really, really interesting!!
Alan Ayckbourn, now a CBE, was born in 1939; he has written and produced more than seventy full-length plays in Scarborough and London and from 1972 to 2009, he was the artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Amazingly, he is still writing and directing!