REVIEW: Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn at Chichester Festival Theatre

A scene from Relatively Speaking. Photo: Nobby Clark.
A scene from Relatively Speaking. Photo: Nobby Clark.

Before Ayckbourn’s plays blended lightness with pitch black, his offering was altogether more frothy and fun.

Relatively Speaking was one of his earlier pieces from the mid-1960s and contains none of the sinister shadows that were to erupt in productions like Way Upstream.

That doesn’t mean to say that the moral conundrums were missing from this timeless classic.

On the contrary, this is a piece of nonsense that has some serious contradictions at its heart - from adultery to the complexity of marriage.

But above all else, it is a perfectly crafted icon of 20th century theatre that exists to entertain.

Noel Coward, the then master of such dramatic innuendo and contortion, acknowledged Ayckbourn’s genius in a telegram praising Relatively Speaking on a ‘beautifully constructed and very very funny comedy.’

How right he was.

It is all about misunderstanding. Of conversations taken out of context. Of the lies that spring from marital deceit.

It’s a simple story too. A four hander that revolves around family confusions set in a middle class garden.

The adorable Liza Goddard plays to perfection the wife. Or is that mother?

Her foil is the equally renowned Robert Powell in a less saintly role than that of Jesus of Nazareth which first sealed his reputation. Here he plays her husband. Or is that father? Or lover?

Lots of laughter. Huge fun. A great set too.

A piece of innocent joy in the run-up to Christmas.