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How the Other Half Loves

After a disappointingly barren summer,  Malvern Theatres has had a couple of interesting things on in quick succession. This week’s offering was How the Othe Half Loves, the 1969 Alan Acykbourn classic. Apparently, it had a prolonged and critically acclaimed run in London last year,and is now on tour around the country – although with only one of the original actors from the West End run. I had seen the play before, years ago, and enjoyed it, so thought I’d use my Standby Club membership to go to the Saturday matinĂ©e. The theatre was quite full, but I still managed to get a very good seat in the stalls.

As you would expect from an Ayckbourn, it’s a black comedy looking at unhappy marriages – three of them in this case. Frank and Fiona Foster are well off with a pleasant, comfortable house and lifestyle, but she is clearly bored with him, and is having an affair with Bob Phillips, one of Frank’s employees. Bob is the office lothario, despite being married with a young baby. His wife, Theresa, is barely coping, and their flat is untidy and chaotic. As Bob and Fiona try to cover up their affair from their increasingly suspicious spouses, they embroil the third couple, William and Mary Featherstone, as unknowing alibis. William is very controlling, and Mary is shy and naive. In their own ways, both Bob and William are domestic bullies, whilst Fiona is an entitled bitch. So plenty of material there for Ayckbourn to dissect and make us laugh at.

It’s very ingeniously staged. The Foster’s house and the Phillips’ flat are both depicted on stage at the same time, with action taking place in both of them simultaneously. The funniest bit was when the Fosters and the Phillips both invite the Featherstones to dinner on successive nights, and the two disastrous dinner parties are staged side by side with the Featherstones swivelling between an avocado starter and packet soup with added air freshener courtesy of the unseen uncontrolled baby.

The play, or at least this staging of it, was less subtle and more in-your-face than I had remembered. However, it was played for laughs and was undoubtedly very funny. When I wasn’t cringing, I was laughing out loud, which has to be a good thing on a damp autumnal Saturday afternoon.