Alan Ayckbourn, “master” of the light English comedy, wrote Relatively Speaking in 1965, and it is an appropriate choice for the API community theatre company, for this is a play that offers an audience a series of comic mishaps and some light-hearted titters before they head home for a nice cup of tea.
Given that API is an amateur performance group, this is an adequate presentation of Ayckbourn’s work but it fails to realise the play’s full comic and dramatic potential.
API theatre does indeed fulfil its motto “the friendly group”. Originally established as a social club for Australia Post and Telecom employees, the group currently stages performances at the Hamilton town hall. There is a friendly, relaxed and supportive atmosphere in the hall as the (generally older) community support their local theatre company. There is even a raffle at intermission!
Set in the UK, Relatively Speaking is about a series of mistaken identities that centre on a young couple Ginny (Racheal Leigh Johnson) and Greg (Anthony West). The play opens at Ginny’s flat in London where Greg has decided to ask Ginny to marry him. Due to a series of errors, Ginny and Greg both end up at Sheila and Phillip’s house in the English countryside. Sheila and Phillip are an older couple who Greg believes to be Ginny’s parents. Sheila is rather hysterically played by Robyn Henry, while Jeff Mitchell gives a convincing performance as Phillip. The ensuing comedy is based on both couple’s infidelities (be they real or imagined).
In the opening scene, Ginny is racing around trying to get ready to catch a train as Greg makes fun of her. In what should be fast and furious opening, this scene drags and fails to introduce the comic tone of the play. Perhaps due to a self-conscious attempt at the English accent, Racheal Leigh Johnson’s performance comes across as a little wooden and over-restrained. In contrast, new talent Anthony West’s Greg is full of energy, life and humour. This is a “plumber turned thespian” to watch he pitches the comedy at exactly right level of theatricality, and successfully realises Greg’s rambling style of storytelling. But even he cannot revive this scene, and the play plods on.
The production begins to lift in a scene between Greg and Phillip. Both actors bring a sense of humour and frustration to this scene which builds to a strong climax and has the audience giggling at the characters’ confusion.
Regrettably, this was one of the few scenes that had any dramatic structure. Director Col Hamblyn takes a far too “static” approach to this play: the characters seem to spend most of their time seated on chairs, and the dialogue is not developed or shaped within each scene. In fact, there seemed to be too little directorial input. What this script needs is a fast-paced comic style, concise blocking and multi-dimensional performances, aspects which are not realised in this production.
One highlight of the play is the elaborate box set of an English country garden created by designer Ken Latter. But even an attractive set could not save this comedy that begins slowly and fails to pick up the pace.
However, I must say that this amateur performance seemed to be enjoyed and appreciated by the local community.