CurtainUp
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A CurtainUp London Review
Relatively Speaking

" "I wrote this play for Scarborough, for people who had had their holidays spoilt by rain."
— Alan Ayckbourn
James Simmons (Philip), Rachel Fielding(Sheila)
(Photo: Andreas Lambis)
The village of Sonning on Thames was described by Jerome K Jerome in his book Three Men in a Boat as "the most fairy-like little nook on the whole river". Imagine if Jerome K Jerome had lived to see this charming theatre established on the banks of the Thames in an old mill, his enthusiasm would have run over. Converted into a theatre and restaurant, The Mill at Sonning now has a working mill water wheel, a magnificent huge wheel of old iron, dominating its downstairs bar.

The Mill is run by its owner, now the artistic director but also an experienced actress, Sally Hughes. I was there to see Alan Ayckbourn's 1965 farce of assumed and confused identities, Relatively Speaking. The programme changes every seven weeks and is a selection of farces, murder mysteries and musicals. Each Christmas there is a big musical production; last year's Singing in the Rain was exceptionally well received and this year it will be Top Hat, based on the Astaire extravaganza.

Each seat is a dining ticket: get there from about 6.00pm and the show kicks off at 8.15pm with plenty of time to get back by taxi to Reading station for fast trains to London Paddington (around 20-25 minutes) or Oxford.

Ayckbourn's plays were first seen at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough in North Yorkshire before coming to London's West End. They are often situation comedies creating the quirky and ridiculous in human behaviour and slightly different from the Whitehall Farces which were guaranteed to find someone stranded in their underwear on the other side of a locked door.

Ayckbourn's plays are clever and witty but they will not thrill those who wish to see the theatre reflecting new feminist ideals or Wokery. The plays are of their time and still wonderful to laugh at with the right attitude. Don't go if you will be offended by an accurate depiction of 1960s sexual mores.

Relatively Speaking was reviewed by me in 2013 and for plot details click on this link. review here. If however you would prefer to remain in the dark with no spoilers, please ignore the link.

Michael Holt's simple sets convey a London flat and then the country garden, and are more utilitarian than stylish, but do the job. The 200 seat auditorium wraps the audience around the stage with good sightlines.

Rachel Fielding is a delight as Sheila wife of Philip, a middle aged, middle class, affluent couple who live in a country house in the Buckinghamshire countryside. She is ever hospitable even when she is not quite sure to whom she is offering lunch or afternoon tea. As an actress Rachel Fielding's body language is terrific. Priggish Philip is her philandering husband and again James Simmons is very well cast. He reacts with puzzlement as each plot twist is revealed.

As I said in the 2013 review, there is a series of delicious misunderstandings and cross purposes as each couple jumps to a false conclusion as to the relationship of other characters in the play. Liane Harvey plays Ginny, the PA who lives with Greg (Christopher Bonwell) her boyfriend in London. Philip has told his wife about his PA, re-styled Old Miss Whittaker.

The young boyfriend Greg is played by Christopher Bonwell as a naive innocent who "doesn't know his delphiniums from his lupins!" There are several denouements, the last of which will satisfyingly have the audience guessing. The director Robin Herford is long an associate of Alan Ayckbourn's at Scarborough and his finely tuned production is a pleasure.

Fulfilling my ambition as a restaurant critic, the meal was very nice, well cooked, a tasty meat pie and vegetables a point, served buffet style but with the yummy pudding menu taken at your table. This was my first time at the Mill but I do hope to be asked back!





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PRODUCTION NOTES
Relatively Speaking
Written by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Robin Herford
Starring: Rachel Fielding, James Simmons, Lianne Harvey, Christopher Bonwell
Set Designer: Michael Holt
Costume Designer: Natalie Titchener
Lighting Design: Matthew Biss
Running time: Two hours minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0118 969 8000
Booking at The Mill to 18th April 2020
Booking at Jermyn Street Theatre London SW1Y 6ST 21 April to 16th May 2020
Box Office Jermyn Street 020 7287 2875
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 6th March 2020 at the Mill at Sonning, ( Car or Rail: To Reading plus a taxi to Sonning)
Index of reviewed shows still running


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