Earlier this year, the popular American sitcom Modern Family featured an episode in which the show’s three main couples went on a long weekend to Las Vegas. Sharing three adjoining rooms and with a mishmash of secrets bubbling to the service, door slamming, confusion, misdirection and ludicrous plot twists quickly ensued.
With rapid fire jokes, perfect timing and snappy dialogue, reviews hailed it as a throwback to the glory days of comedy farce and it was deemed one of the best episode’s of the season.
Farce is nothing new of course and has been around since Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, but it has seen a revival in London’s West End recently and unsurprisingly this has been belatedly transplanted to Dubai in the Dubai Drama Group’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s classic Relatively Speaking.
Ayckbourn, who was a comedy sketch writer for Ronnie Barker – one half of British icons the Two Ronnies – got his first hit with the play in the 1960s and it was revived on the West End last year with a celebrity packed cast.
The plot revolves around swinging 60 London girl-about-town Ginny, who has recently started dating the gormless and hopelessly besotted Greg but is desperately trying to break it off with her older married lover Philip, who is still bombarding her with flowers and presents.
She sets off to the country to finish it with Philip, telling Greg she is going to visit her temperamental parents. Unbeknownst to her, Greg follows her with the aim of asking her father for her hand in marriage.
Switching to the countryside, we meet Philip’s unhappily married wife Sheila who is pretending she is having an affair with an imaginary suitor in order to generate interest in her increasingly dismissive and wayward husband.
Greg shows up unexpectedly on cue, assuming Philip and Sheila are Ginny’s parents. Philip mistakenly assumes Greg is Shiela’s lover and by the time Ginny materialises at the end of the first half the farce plotlines have been put in place and it should be ready for the confusion, cover-ups and confrontations to begin.
When first unleashed to the public in the ’60s Ayckbourn’s play was a massive hit and comedy genius Noël Coward called it ‘a beautifully constructed and very funny comedy’.
Fast forward to 2014 and while Ayckbourn might have gotten a knighthood for his services to comedy and has written over 70 plays since, his original hit does not stand the test of time and struggles to fit into the modern, fast-paced world.
Time Out London dismissed the most recent run in the West End as ‘an innocuous old museum piece’ and we are inclined to agree.
Modern audiences are used to multiple channel TV and sitcoms on English and American TV and comedy now everything has to fast-paced and tightly wound to generate tension or interest.
Relatively Speaking suffers from a lacklustre pace and it rarely generates much tension or urgency. Also, for a comedy, it’s pretty short on laughs and rarely raises more than a few quaint smiles or sniggers. The early opening scenes in particular fail to grab your interest and it’s a long wait for any real comedy. Hopes that the second half will pick up pace once the action moves to the countryside also never materialise.
It’s always good to support local community theatre, and some of the older leads shone onstage. But while this play is definitely an interesting distraction for two hours, don’t expect ‘the proverbial gales of laughter’ the promotional poster claims to offer.
Relatively Speaking is showing at the Ductac Theatre, Mall of the Emirates until June 14 and tickets are available through TimeOut Tickets.