A comedy by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Eileen Moushey
In this British comedy set during the "swinging sixties," a complicated series of mistaken identities unravels for a young couple planning to get married.
When the play starts, we meet a young “co-habiting couple,” Greg and Ginny, whose relationship, after only a month, is dwindling into a state of irritability.
The naive Greg is hurt and perplexed not only by the unsolicited gifts arriving hourly at their apartment but by Ginny's decision to take off alone one Sunday — supposedly to see her parents in the country.
In reality, Ginny is going to descend on the home of her married boss, Philip, to put an end to their affair. When Greg impulsively follows Ginny, the way is open to a dizzying series of misunderstandings: Greg assumes he is meeting his girlfriend's parents while Philip initially takes Greg to be the lover about whom his own wife, Sheila, has ostentatiously fantasized.
From there, it’s mix-ups and mayhem all around!
AUDIENCE ADVISORY: Relatively Speaking, though written in 1965, is best enjoyed by audiences over the age of 13 due to its adult-oriented themes and plot points.
ABOUT THE PLAY’S BACKGROUND
It is no great exaggeration to say Relatively Speaking made an overnight success of Alan Ayckbourn and fundamentally changed his entire life. It is impossible to read the weight of glowing London notices without the realization that just one night marked the difference between a little-known writer becoming one of theatre’s hottest properties. Of course, the reality is Ayckbourn paid his dues over many years and neither he nor the play was quite the overnight phenomenon as is sometimes portrayed.
Ayckbourn had been writing professionally for six years before he wrote Relatively Speaking. His first play, The Square Cat, was commissioned by the English theater director Stephen Joseph and produced at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1959, and by 1963 Ayckbourn had produced another five plays.
In October 1964, Joseph asked Ayckbourn if he would "knock off something for our summer season — some jolly little comedy." Ayckbourn accepted the commission to write for Scarborough's Library Theatre and Joseph suggested the young writer attempt to craft a “well-made play.”
Come February 1965, Joseph contacted Ayckbourn again to check on his progress and was met with “the usual cascade of unashamed lies about the unwritten work.” Ayckbourn’s response was the play was “fine” although he had not written a line of it. This situation remain unchanged when Joseph asked for a title for the play in April. Publicity leaflets were due to be printed, but Ayckbourn had still not given thought to a title. Joseph suggested Meet My Mother with Ayckbourn later asking if it could be altered to Meet My Father, which he felt sounded more dramatic.
The problem was Ayckbourn was taken with Stephen’s suggestion he write a “well-made play.” Years later, Ayckbourn recalled that “It intrigued me as an exercise…I remember sitting down and trying to write a piece that was, if you like, actor-proof. A play that would have a mechanism in it that would need only the slightest of pushes to make it work. In doing so I had to apply all my mind and technique to such an extent that I became very depressed. In fact, I kept putting it off.”
With the practical deadline of rehearsals approaching in June, Alan began writing in mid-May. He had rented a small cottage in Collingham and there, with his wife and a neighbor's cat called Pamela who would come and sleep on the playwright's lap as he worked, he wrote the first draft of the play over three nights. “The devious plot was the result of sheer frenzy and the dialogue, of tearing haste. In just over a week the play was written aided by my wife's blue pencil, her constant suggestions and her cups of coffee.”
Meet My Father opened at the Library Theatre on July 8, 1965, and was well-received by audiences and, more importantly, by the producer Peter Bridge, who optioned it for London and brought the director Nigel Patrick to see it. Both were passionate about the play — with the caveat that it needed a new title, as Meet My Father was deemed "too provincial."
Rehearsals for the London production began in January 1967, by which time the title had settled as Relatively Speaking and it was now a two- rather than a three-act play. On Feb. 21, the play began a short try-out tour at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, from where it would move to Edinburgh, Sheffield, Oxford, Leeds and Liverpool.
Relatively Speaking opened at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London on March 29, 1967, and Ayckbourn braced himself for the reviews. He needn’t have worried, as the majority of critics fell over themselves to praise the production. Relatively Speaking would run for approximately a year in London for more than 350 performances, attracting such enthusiastic audience members as Noël Coward and even Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Phillip. The play has been revived twice in London (1986 and 2013), and the British Broadcasting Corporation produced two television adaptations (in 1969 and 1989).
In 1970, the play finally opened in America at Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut, with Joan Fontaine, sister of Olivia de Havilland, playing Sheila.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
ALAN AYCKBOURN is an English writer and director. In America, he is sometimes referred to as “the British Neil Simon” — not so much for his comedic style but rather for his abundant output as a playwright.
The year 2014 marks Alan’s 53rd year as a theatre director and his 55th as a playwright. He has spent his life in theatre, rarely if ever tempted by television or film, which perhaps explains why he continues to be so prolific. To date he has written 78 plays and his work has been translated into over 35 languages, is performed on stage and television throughout the world and has won countless awards.
Weathervane Playhouse audiences may remember the playwright’s comedy Communicating Doors, which played on our Founders Theater stage in 2001.
In addition to Relatively Speaking, Ayckbourn’s major successes include How the Other Half Loves, Absurd Person Singular, Bedroom Farce, A Chorus of Disapproval and The Norman Conquests. In the past four years, there have been revivals of Season's Greetings and A Small Family Business at the National Theatre and in London’s West End productions of Absent Friends, A Chorus of Disapproval and Relatively Speaking. This year marks the 50th anniversary of his first West End production, Mr. Whatnot.
In 2009, he retired as artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre (Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England), where almost all his plays have been and continue to be first staged. Holding the post for 37 years, he still feels that perhaps his greatest achievement was the establishment of this company’s first permanent home when the two-auditorium complex fashioned from a former Odeon Cinema opened in 1996.
In recent years, he has been inducted into American Theatre’s Hall of Fame, received the 2010 Critics’ Circle Award for Services to the Arts and became the first British playwright to receive both the Olivier Award and the Tony Award for Special Lifetime Achievement Awards. He was knighted in 1997 for services to the theatre.
Source: Alan Ayckbourn's official website (www.alanayckbourn.net).