Theatre: How The Other Half Loves

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Three stars

If you can remember the 1960s, so cliched legend has it, then you weren't really there. Such superior-minded myth-making comes to mind watching Alan Ayckbourn's early hit, a suburban pot-pourri of sex and the tired thrill of everyday betrayal. This comes through the confused fall-out of three dead marriages as the so-called permissive society trickles down the class scale.

Alan Strachan's touring revival of his West End production opens amidst the domestic chaos of upper crust Frank and Fiona Foster and the aspirationally with-it Bob and Teresa Phillips. Fiona and Bob have just had a late-night liaison, and must cover their tracks lest permanently befuddled Frank and new mum Teresa find out. As their alibi they co-opt unsuspecting William and Mary Featherstone, who end up having dinner with each couple on consecutive nights.

Ayckbourn's ingenious conceit is to have the action in both houses played simultaneously, so the Featherstones swivel between the two dinner parties at the same time. A mix of technical dexterity and sit-com style performances tap into the agony of lives in denial.

Almost half a century old, the play is a period piece now, and not just because of its extensive use of landline telephones. There is misogyny, both in Leon Ockenden's thrusting Bob and Matthew Cottle's bullying William. But there is sadness too, best expressed by Robert Daws as Frank, a man desperately out of time. If Caroline Langrishe's brittle Fiona and Charlie Brooks' embattled Teresa's frustrations are justified, it is Sara Crowe's mousy Mary who offers a glimmer of hope for change in a play that remembers every painful second of the decade that sired it.