How The Other Half Loves

Director ROBIN HERFORD has created a gloriously funny revival of this play

The Mill at Sonning is such a lovely venue.  It’s located in a pretty spot, and the theatre is a really nice performance space. It’s also one of those theatres where I don’t think there is a bad seat. Tickets for plays and shows at the Mill include a delicious 2 course meal beforehand, which makes for a lovely stress-free theatrical experience. The buffet main course offers plenty of choice, and the restaurant is a great welcoming space. There is usually time to have a stroll around the gardens in between eating and the show starting. It’s a genuine treat of an afternoon or evening!

How the Other Half Loves is a 1969 play by Alan Ayckbourn. It is a classic farce, with the tangled love life of Fiona and Bob resulting in a chain of misunderstandings, conflicts and revelations.

The play secured Ayckbourn's runaway success as one of our best loved modern playwrights.

The play centres around three married couples. The Fosters - Frank & Fiona. The Philips - Bob & Teresa. And The Featherstones - William & Mary. 

Frank is Bob and William’s boss. Fiona is having an affair with Bob. Teresa is suspicious of Bob, who tries to cover up the affair by putting the blame onto his colleague William.

William suspects Mary is having an affair. Fiona, to ward off Frank’s questioning, tells him that she has been comforting Mary, who also suspects that William is having an affair… 

Of course William & Mary are the innocent parties tangled in Fiona & Bob’s web of deceit….

This was excellently performed by its 6 strong ensemble cast. It was really very difficult to single anyone of the cast out. STUART FOX (Frank Foster), RUTH GIBSON (Teresa Philips), JULIA HILLS (Fiona Foster), DAMIEN MATTHEWS  (Bob Philips), EMILY PITHON (Mary Featherstone), and BEN PORTER (William Featherstone) all played their parts extremely well.  They all had distinct and well developed characterisation, and there was some beautiful examples of physical theatre. 

The pace was very well handled, especially during the painful dinner party scene.  The cast built the layers of palpable tension really well.

Director ROBIN HERFORD has created a gloriously funny revival of this play. I particularly enjoyed the look of this production and credit must go to set designer MICHAEL HOLT for the perfect attention to detail…the landline phones, the hoover, phone book, the dream-catcher hanging in the window…all perfectly captured this period at the end of the 1960s/beginning of the 1970s. I loved the avocado starter served from avocado dishes...brought back some lovely memories for me!

The play itself is very funny, and there are some laugh out loud moments throughout. I did find some of the attitudes a little dated, and I wondered whether the domestic abuse and coercive control and demeaning language exhibited by, particularly Bob and Teresa, were deliberately played up in this production to really underline how our attitudes had changed. None of these wives worked either, so as well as the vintage phones and hoover, we could really see how society had evolved in a relatively short space of time. 

The clever set, really helped us the audience see the two households on the same set. We had Frank and Fiona’s grand home on the same set as Bob and Teresa’s more modest home, complete with Chesterfield style sofa with a more modern seat in amongst it, making it quite clear to the audience which home the characters were in, even when they were onstage together. Both homes are represented on the same set, with the actors occupying the same space, sometimes at different times. 

The set change for the disastrous dinner parties scene initially seemed a little slow, but when the scene unfolded it was clear why such care had been taken, and why that eye for detail was so important. It was extremely clever.

This really is a fun way of spending a few hours. The acting from all 6 cast members is top notch, and its always great to laugh out loud for a couple of hours!

This show was reviewed at The Mill at Sonning on the 19th August 2023.  How The Other Half Loves runs until the 23rd September 2023.  Tickets available here: Mill at Sonning

Review written by Ruth Hawkins

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Photo credit: Andreas Lambis

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