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How The Other Half Loves

Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy, How The Other Half Loves, follows three married couples whose lives are inextricably intertwined: Bob Philips and William Featherstone work for Frank Foster and Frank is considering bringing William onto his team; Bob constantly argues with his wife, Teresa, who suspects him of having an affair with an unknown woman; Bob tells her that William’s wife, Mary, thinks that he is also having an affair; on the other hand, Frank and Fiona appear to have a courteous but emotionally aloof marriage. Both the Fosters and the Philips invite the Featherstones to dinner, where both wives intend to ‘fix’ their guests’ relationship; what could possibly go wrong during their successive dinner parties…? As relations between partners deteriorate, matters become more confused and only the truth can restore order to chaos.

I have watched and enjoyed a number of pantomimes over the years put on by the Mountbatten Players at The Point in Eastleigh, but this is the first time that I have seen them perform a ‘straight’ play; the Performance Gym at University of Winchester is an interesting choice for staging, but the raked seating of this small and intimate venue enhances the audience’s fly-on-the-wall perspective viewpoint, which works so well for this type of observational comedy.

Each cast member has their moments where they shine, but they also all gel together so well that this is truly an ensemble production. Helen Wood gives a stellar performance as Fiona Foster, seemingly being the dutiful wife while actually ensuring that her somewhat inept husband is able to function at all, and Paul Young is excellent as her affable, bumbling and slightly dim-witted husband, Frank. The feisty relationship between sleazy Bob and suspicious Teresa is captured extremely well by Peter Cole and Asha Nayaka, while Adam Feltham and Lou McCabe are superb as controlling husband William and his timid wife, Mary.

How is it possible to depict two different dinner parties on two different evenings in two different locations in one performance area? With the high level of direction from Peter Pitcher and the performance skills from the actors, particularly Feltham and McCabe, most effectively indeed! With slick timing, sharply executed choreographed movements and snappy dialogue, enhanced by some good old-fashioned slapstick visual comedy, this one scene epitomises the highly enjoyable entertainment of the entire production. Admittedly, there is a certain element of “it was alright in the 70s” to the outdated attitudes to women’s roles within the marital household, but, setting that aside, there is also a contemporary affiliation to Come Dine With Me in how differently the evenings pan out with various hosts.

There is a great choice of preset, scene change and interval music (and ambient preset lighting on an open living room set) introducing the 1970s domestic setting, reinforced throughout by accurate costumes and fine attention to details with the array of props. The scenery is cleverly designed and decorated to provide the individual living rooms of the Fosters and Philips (even managing to depict the large house of the more affluent Fosters compared to the cramped flat of the Philips family), and the sound effects are well designed, brilliantly timed and almost entirely location specific.

How The Other Half Loves is also a farce, which involves highly exaggerated, extravagant, somewhat improbable situations, characterised by physical humour, specifically stylized performances and fast pace with quick entrances and exits – and, for the most part, that is what this talented, cohesive cast of six carried off on opening night with panache. There were a few minor fluffs, but the cast kept these in character and essentially the pace is quick and polished, and it is very impressive how well they focus the attention to their own time and place in the play while sharing the stage with their counterparts in their separate moments and residence. The audience left this performance smiling broadly, laughing and singing along to the 1970s soundtrack – always a good indication of how much a production has been enjoyed!

As this show is running for just two nights, there is only one more chance to catch this production – take that chance and enjoy!

There is an exit collection in support of the Countess Mountbatten Hospice Charity.