Directed by Mark Kilmurry
78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli
Season: 18 November – 14 January
The genre of farce had its heyday in the 1960s and farcical plays continue to frequent Sydney stages to this day. Of the most recent, Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking directed by Mark Kilmurry is taking the Ensemble Theatre stage. While its purpose doesn't extend much further than entertainment, I question whether the genre has become so well-worn and its tropes so familiar that it struggles to fulfil even that. Maybe farce just isn't for me. Regardless, Kilmurry's production gives forth some lovely performances and production design, and by the sound of the audience around me, certainly hits a sweet spot for some.
We wake up in the morning with Ginny and Greg in the same bedroom, ultra affectionate and ultra 60s. Ginny is hiding an affair with an older man, Philip, that lays the foundation for the farcical eventualities. They end up at the house of Philip and his wife Sheila - and through a string of mistaken identities and far-fetched cover-ups, we have the premise for Relatively Speaking.
Performances are strong by all four actors and Kilmurry’s direction brings warmth and playfulness to the work. Emma Palmer’s portrayal of Ginny is vivacious and Jonny Hawkins plays off her well as the slightly dippy, yet affable, Greg. David Whitney is humorous as the cantankerous Philip and Tracy Mann’s Sheila is impressive. I felt that some of the interactions between characters already felt resolved at the beginning of the scene, which isn’t as engaging as witnessing characters come to personal realisations in the moment. I struggled to buy the relationship with a sizeable age gap between Philip and Ginny, which didn’t enhance the believability of the premise. In saying this, farce requires you to stretch your imagination and maybe it just adds to the comedy of it all. Hugh O’Connor’s production design is marvellous, capturing the charm of the era with delightful simplicity. Utterly English, the audience is transported to the play’s setting, undoubtedly augmented by his design work.
Sometimes a bit of light-hearted fun is what you want from theatre, not to mention a sweet homage to a bygone era. This play personally wouldn’t be my top pick for a night of entertainment, however I can see how it appeals strongly to some, and by no means should you be restrained from enjoying it. Alan Ayckbourn writes a particular breed of plays that predictably deliver for certain types of audience, and all power to them for having a laugh and enjoying the show.