There are some things in life that you can always rely on. Water is wet; fire is hot; and an Alan Ayckbourn comedy will make you laugh until you cannot breathe.
It’s just a fact of life – and especially true this week at the Grand Opera House, with a perfect production of How the Other Half Loves.
How the Other Half Loves
Grand Opera House, York
Till Saturday October 14
It is 1970, and three couples are about to lie, confuse, embarrass and infuriate each other.
The upper-management Frank and Fiona Foster (Robert Daws and Caroline Langrishe) live in an elegant home with traditional furnishings and a classically neutral decor.
The young and volatile Bob and Theresa Phillips (Leon Ockenden and Charlie Brooks) have a much scruffier home, with gloriously 60s lights and cushions, and an unseen baby.
William and Mary Featherstone (Matthew Cottle and Sara Crowe) are a rather dull suburban couple, who are dragged into the story through no fault of their own.
It is a very skilled job to get the timings right in a complex play like this. It is set in the living rooms of the Fosters and the Phillipses, and much of the humour comes from people crossing and recrossing the cleverly-designed set.
This comes to a head in the spectacular dinner scene, where we see the Featherstones dining simultaneously with the Fosters on Thursday night, and the Phillipses on Friday.
Robert Daws is spectacular as bumbling Frank Foster. I have no idea how work it must have taken him to be able to deliver so much of his dialogue at top speed. As his wife, the elegant Fiona, Caroline Langrishe never puts a foot wrong.
Steals the show
Charlie Brooks’ Teresa Phillips is a warm-hearted firecracker of reactions and emotions, and is far too good for her vain and immature husband.
Bob is astoundingly good looking, and knows it. Leon Ockenden has huge fun with the role.
Matthew Cottle’s William Featherstone is humourless and dictatorial, and more than a little pompous. But Sara Crowe absolutely steals the show as Mary – timid, clumsy and utterly terrified.
Her slow gaining in confidence is subtle and witty, and by the climax of the play, I wanted to stand up and cheer for her.
It takes a lot of work and talent to create performances as perfect and effortless as these. I recommend the whole show unreservedly – don’t miss this polished gem.