— Production poster
If you wish to see a marvelously written play with deliciously funny situations, a comedy of manners and infidelity that keeps delivering new twists, you need look no farther than Relatively Speaking at the PAL Theatre.
In an ideal world, we would have a theatre called Hambone Productions. Each year, at Christmas, this loosely configured enterprise would mount one production in which veteran hambones such as Bernard Cuffling, Christopher Gaze, Nicola Cavendish and Nicki Lipman would be invited to compete with one another as to who could out-ham the other. Each night the cast and/or the audience would get to vote as to who was the biggest, most outrageous, most likeable and funny ham. At the end of each annual run, the actor with the most wins would win a Christmas ham.
Hambone Productions would do well to introduce this tradition next year by re-mounting this Ayckbourn classic that premiered in 1965 under the more informative title, Meet My Father. And they would be well advised to ask Terence Kelly back to reprise his role as the father. This year’s co-recipient of the 2013 Jessie Award for Career Achievement (along with his longtime partner Anna Hagan, who plays the mother) is clearly enjoying himself in Relatively Speaking, taking delight from the cleverness of Ayckbourn’s cleverness and embellishing his lines with hard-earned comic timing.
In a bed-sit London flat, young Greg is so taken with his new lover Ginny that he is willing to overlook a profusion of flowers and chocolates in the flat, as well as a pair of strange slippers under the bed. He proposes; Ginny hesitates. When she pretends she must go and visit her parents that afternoon, Greg obtains the address and decides to follow her to meet his prospective in-laws.
Ginny intends to break things off with her much older, married lover, Philip, her former boss—but when Greg arrives at the house before Ginny, he naturally assumes the married couple of Philip and Sheila are Ginny’s parents. Sheila is such a classic Brit that she isn’t fazed by the appearance of a complete stranger on her doorstep, and she proceeds to clumsily make the best of things, inviting him to stay for a meal.
This enables Greg to talk man-to-man with Philip, and naively ask him for Ginny’s hand in marriage. Philip must somehow keep his wife from learning about his affair. When Ginny shows up and gets Philip to agree to act like her father while Greg is in the room, the dialogue gets hilariously convoluted. Obviously the pretence of fatherhood cannot prevail while the wife is in the room.
It gets even more complex when Philip mistakenly believes his wife has been having affairs with several men. Somehow Ayckbourn manages to keep the various pretences and misunderstandings aloft like one of those Cirque de Soleil jugglers who can keep eight balls in the air. Relatively Speaking is a circus act in terms of comic finesse, with a lovely surprise that nobody in the audience can see coming.
Jay Hindle as Greg, Stacie Steadman as Ginny and Anna Hagan as Sheila all give it their level best, but Relatively Speaking is a comedy of British manners, not Canadian manners. The situations are funny because the Brits are renowned for maintaining the pretence of formality and decorum—everything is just tickety-boo, old chap—even as the ship is sinking. The Hambones would have a field day.
As directed by Anthony F. Ingram, this Western Gold mounting is on the mild side largely because sing-song British accents are intermittent, uneven, merely hinted at or else entirely absent. Too much of the time it feels like we could be watching a play set on a backyard patio in Edmonton rather than in Buckinghamshire, outside of London. Consequently the audience is left to enjoy the writing more than the acting. Fortunately the writing is more than enough to send one home giddy, or at least suffused with mirth.
Glenn MacDonald’s set is more than ample and PAL is quite simply a bargain. If you’ve never been to the eighth floor theatre near the Bayshore Inn, it’s well worth a detour beyond the confines of Granville Island.