Hilarious Ayckbourn as How The Other Half Loves comes to Norwich
PUBLISHED: 09:18 20 November 2017 | UPDATED: 09:18 20 November 2017
Matrimonial mishaps and the dinner party debacles are guaranteed as the Alan Ayckbourn classic How The Other Half Loves comes to Norwich Theatre Royal. We find out more from cast members Robert Daws and Caroline Langrishe.
Alan Ayckbourn’s hilarious tale of matrimonial mishaps How The Other Half Loves has all the elements of a classic farce.
As Bob and Fiona clumsily try to cover up their affair, their spouses’ intervention only adds to the confusion. William and Mary Featherstone become hopelessly stuck in the middle, falsely accused of adultery and with no idea as to how they’ve become involved.
The plot culminates in two disastrous dinner parties on successive nights, shown at the same time, after which the future of all three couples seems in jeopardy…
The play was an incredible success when it opened in the West End in 1970 at the Lyric Theatre running for an incredible 869 performances. It enjoyed a major critically acclaimed West End revival last year, where it was named London’s funniest comedy of 2016.
Now it is coming to the region on a national tour that also helps mark Ayckbourn’s 56th year as a theatre director and 58th as a playwright. To date, he has penned an incredible 80 plays and had his work has been translated into over 35 languages.
The includes former EastEnder Charlie Brooks and former Coronation Street baddie Leon Ockenden, alongside Robert Daws, a familiar face from The Royal, Outside Edge and Roger Roger, as well as Caroline Langrishe, who play Frank and Fiona Foster.
How would you sum up Frank and Fiona?
Robert: Frank is an old-fashioned man or rather a 58-year-old boy. It’s a period play and he’s sort of an ex-military man who’s gone into business. He’s very efficient and he likes order. He likes things to be in exactly the place he wants them to be and has a very well-ordered life.
Caroline: Fiona is a professional housewife. She doesn’t work and she runs the house immaculately like clockwork looking after her husband and his every whim. All his shirts are ironed and meals are on the table at the right time.
And what’s the dynamic between them in the play?
Robert: It’s the unravelling of an onion. They’ve basically lived on cruise control for many years. The play is a detective story really from Frank’s point of view. He sniffs that his wife might be unfaithful to him and he follows every potential clue; the fact he misses most of them and messes them up is neither here nor there. He’s after the truth in order to save not only his marriage but also to save his career in some respects as well because the man who is having an affair with his wife is a vital cog in his department at work.
Caroline: Fiona basically gets everything she wants thanks to her wily feminine skills and by being perfectly charming and utterly polite at all times, but there’s obviously something going on underneath which is that she’s having a fling.
Why do you think Alan Ayckbourn is so revered as a playwright?
Caroline: He understands the human condition absolutely brilliantly and he writes with enormous wit and irony. And he understands this particular type of suburban world very well. It’s very recognisable. There won’t be anyone in the audience who doesn’t recognise any of the three couples in the play.
Robert: He’s one of the greatest living playwrights by quite some considerable distance because he has the ability to nail people at moments of crisis in their lives. Where I think he triumphs in particular is how he manages to find laughter in pain and pain in laughter. That’s a huge skill but that’s life and he manages to encapsulate it time and time again. That’s why people love his plays.
And why do you think How The Other Half Loves remains one of his most beloved works?
Robert: The structure of it is quite extraordinary. He wrote this at the age of 28 and it’s far more ambitious than it might appear at first. It came at a time when drawing room comedies were still being done and I think it was considered to be a drawing room comedy itself, but the structure and conceit of it are really ambitious. His command of stagecraft, even at the age of 28, was second to none but of course that’s all hidden because the stories come on top of the stagecraft. The stagecraft, the moving machinery and the precision that goes on underneath what the audience sees, means there’s a marvelling at that as well as an empathy for the characters.
Is this your first time tackling an Ayckbourn or have you performed in any of his plays before?
Robert: I did one of his plays about 20 years ago called Confusions.
Caroline: And I was in Tons Of Money, which wasn’t an Ayckbourn play but he adapted it.
Are there any particular challenges How The Other Half Loves presents for you as actors?
Caroline: We have quite a lot of conversations with people we don’t look at and we have relationships with people we don’t look at either. We’re spinning plates like Greek waiters in a restaurant.
Robert: I think the language is extraordinary. His skill at writing naturalistic dialogue is extraordinary but it’s very, very difficult because there’s a lot that’s so precise with Ayckbourn. Everyone talks about Pinter or Beckett but I think you need exactly the same approach with Ayckbourn and possibly even more so, dare I say it? His work is so precise and he has a way of using the same words and the same speeches in different ways, which can lead you astray in the early days.
How is it working with director Alan Strachan, especially given his close ties with Ayckbourn?
Robert: He’s extraordinary. It’s like working with a conductor. He knows the text so wonderfully that he almost conducts us in it. He knows the rhythms and where the comedy is. It’s a wonderful thing working with Alan and his decades of experience with Ayckbourn.
Caroline: Thank God he’s there, frankly, because otherwise we’d just be sitting looking at our scripts with our mouths open. He’s essential.
The play originally premiered in 1969. Are there things about the socio-political context that are very much of its time?
Robert: These are people who are living in a very particular time in history and at the tail end of a particular period in history. The 60s were almost over but the big changes were still pretty much confined to the major cities. By the time you get down to Crawley, where the play is set, it was just beginning to happen, certainly from the female point of view. That’s why I think it’s an important play.
Caroline: I feel a bit like my mother in this play. It reminds me of her getting supper ready for when my father came home from the office. I’m getting big flashbacks and I’m looking forward to seeing her reaction when she comes to see the play. In terms of the socio-political context, it’s totally different to today. The woman is there to serve the man, end of.
Robert: The man is the one who brings in the money and the wife looks after the house and everything to do with that. The play is also about their values, which are very different today. Maybe the younger generation will come along to see it and go ‘My goodness me, is this really how people behaved?’
That said, are there things about the play you feel will resonate with contemporary audiences?
Caroline: Definitely because of course there are three relationships in the play and relationships have been the same since the world began.
Robert: Sex, love, infidelity, money and social status are things that haven’t changed and I think audiences will respond very much to all those things that run through most of Alan’s plays and certainly through this early work.
How are you finding the 1960s fashions?
Robert: I’m fortunate to be of an age now where even the character I’m playing in 1969 is not wearing bell-bottoms. Frank is a man of the 40s and 50s so he’s a classic dresser. You’ll still find Franks in the golf clubs and rotary clubs of Great Britain so he’s very recognisable.
Caroline: My clothes are great because I’ve sort of gone into Jackie O land, which of course is currently very fashionable. We seem to have come a bit full circle. I’m not outlandish; I’m not Afghan coats and bell-bottoms. Because of my character’s background she’s quite elegant.
Finally are you looking forward to bringing the production to Norwich Theatre Royal?
Robert: I don’t know Norwich very well so I’m looking forward to exploring the place.
Caroline: I have a gaggle of friends in Norfolk who are incredibly supportive. If I’m touring in a play that goes to Cambridge they drive for hours and hours to get there so it’s great I’ll actually be much nearer them this time.
• How The Other Half Loves is at Norwich Theatre Royal, from November 27-December 2, 7.30pm, 2.30pm Nov 29/Dec 2, £28.50-£8, 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk