The Theatreguide.London Review
How The Other Half Loves
Haymarket Theatre Spring 2016; Duke of York's Summer-Autumn 2016
Funny, funny, funny.
That's all you really have to know about Alan Ayckbourn's 1969 comedy (though of course I'm going to tell you more).
And I said it three times because How The Other Half Loves is funny in three distinct ways, any one of which could have been enough to satisfy, but which together produce an abundance, a cornucopia of laughter.
First of all, it is a classic farce of multiplying misunderstandings. We meet three married couples and quickly discover that one husband and a wife not his own are having an affair.
We know who but, thanks largely to the total out-of-it-ness of one bumbling husband, everyone else gets it wrong, and in different ways. So while A thinks it's B and C who are having it off, B thinks it's D and E, while D thinks it's A and C, and so on.
The result, in Ayckbourn's hands, is a string of crossed conversations that make sense to both parties even though they are actually talking about different people, and the playwright keeps this juggling act up far longer, and more hilariously, than you'd think possible.
And while that's going on, there's also a technical staging trick to keep us entertained.
One set serves as two separate homes, not alternately but simultaneously, so that two sets of characters can occupy the same stage space while being unaware of each other, crossing in front of each other or sitting in the same chairs with carefully timed choreography.
The delight of watching this dance reaches its peak when two separate dinner parties on two separate nights in two separate homes take place simultaneously, with everything from small talk to the passing of plates repeatedly switching back and forth between the two events, often in mid-sentence.
And thirdly, there are a lot of simply funny lines. Ayckbourn is not usually thought of as a gag writer in the Neil Simon mode, but when you are not busy keeping up with the plot confusions or marvelling at the clever staging, you will be laughing out loud at a string of funny one- and two-liners.
And so is this a perfect comedy? Not quite. Alan Strachan has directed this play in major productions twice before, and he may be running out of ideas.
In particular that second comic strand, making the stage two places at once, really wants snappy and precisely timed near-misses, as when a character in one reality puts down a prop that a character in the other immediately picks up, and Strachan's staging too often ambles casually when it wants to be always teetering on the edge of disaster.
That central double dinner party is particularly languid where it should be so tightly timed that we have trouble keeping up with it and take extra delight from its being cleverer than we are.
Unquestioned star of the evening and generating engine of the whole comic machine is Nicholas Le Prevost as the husband destined to be totally wrong in everything he thinks, even when he changes his mind or corrects himself.
Jenny Seagrove is a little too brittle and artificial (and affects a funny voice) as – no real spoiler here – the straying wife, and it may take you longer than is good for the comedy to be able to see the character beneath the performance.
The other four characters are somewhat underwritten and just there to allow for added comic confusion, and so the admirably hard-working Matthew Cottle, Jason Merrells, Tamzin Outhwaite and Gillian Wright aren't really given much to work with.
You might occasionally sense that a particular moment could have been even funnier or that a character's comic potential might have been developed further. But that would be asking for superfluity piled on superfluity.
Anyone not satisfied with the abundance of comedy on offer here is just being greedy.
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Review - How The Other Half Loves - Haymarket Theatre 2016
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