How the Other Half Loves/Malvern Theatres

FROM the furrowed brows as the dinner party avocado starter is served, to the casual acceptance of male violence, this Alan Ayckbourn classic is firmly anchored in its late 1960s setting.

Here we have three couples, all mired in marital ruts of varying depths. Much of the humour relies on a gag-laden dialogue delivered with machine gun rapidity by Frank (Robert Daws) a man trapped in a chronic state of denial regarding his snooty top-drawer missus Fiona’s indiscretions, who is playing away with Bob (Leon Ockenden).

Despite the fact that top drawer Fiona (Caroline Langrishe) seems fragrantly aloof from everything, this doesn’t include the unsavoury Bob, who today would undoubtedly be receiving a visit from the coppers because of his cruel treatment of wife Teresa (Charlie Brooks).

In keeping with the period feel, Frank’s Terry and June sit-com style of delivery is presumably a cover for his inner torment. But what’s lacking here is any true reflection of the helter-skelter nature of human emotions. Frank’s being betrayed – why doesn’t he occasionally get angry? The problem is that Ayckbourn doesn’t do silence, which can so often speak the loudest.

But whatever this play lacks in light and shade, there’s no denying that Ayckbourn is the master of the tightly-woven plot, the various threads of intrigue finally pulling together to form a net in which all the protagonists are caught.

And there are some magical moments as Mary (Sara Crowe) reprises her legendary Philadelphia cheese advert squeak of a voice as she kow-tows to feeble husband William (Matthew Cottle), who in turn grovels before his boss Frank.

There are times when this piece sticks in your throat like a partially-chewed chunk of strawberry pavlova but it’s still highly entertaining for all that. It runs until Saturday (September 30).

John Phillpott