Relatively Speaking: West End Reviews

Relatively Speaking was Alan Ayckbourn's break-out hit in London's West End and quickly propelled him to fame. For a taste of how the play was received, here are extracts from many of the major reviews of the London premiere of the play in 1967 at the Duke Of York's Theatre.

Daily Express (Herbert Kretzmer)
Almost continuous laughter last night augers well for the commercial future of this cleverly judged comedy. It is bound to attract a large middlebrow audience and will deserve such success.

Daily Mail (Peter Lewis)
Unashamed, artificial, laugh-a-line comedy with no message or significance whatsoever…. Unlike most clockwork comedies, this one clicks and fizzes to the very end.

Daily Telegraph (W.A. Darlington)
If you want to see how brilliant light-comedy acting and production can make a charming evening’s entertainment out of a basically silly play, go to the Duke Of York’s and see
Relatively Speaking…. Where then, lies the trouble? Simply in the fact that the author has to labour like an old-fashioned convict to prevent any of his characters from speaking the one line of sensible explanation that would clear up the mistake and bring the play to a premature end.

Evening Standard (Milton Shulman)
Slight, tenuous and too fragile for rational analysis.
Relatively Speaking emerges as the funniest trick of the season.

Financial Times (B.A. Young)
Gossamer is the word for Alan Ayckbourn’s new comedy. The material it’s made from is so flimsy that it’s a wonder the piece holds together at all…. But gossamer has another quality, it glitters delicately and prettily in the light, and so does
Relatively Speaking. You learn quite early in the evening to tiptoe warily with the actors across the dangerous bridge of make-believe, throwing aside your capacity for disbelief almost at once and concentrating as meticulously as the author has done on the task of getting to the far end without putting your foot through the fabric. Audience and cast together in a breathless balancing act.

Evening News
Froth I said, and froth I maintain, but it is whipped to something near perfection and the result is a deliciously heady concoction.

New Statesman (D.A.N. Jones)
It is as if a brilliant child has gathered up the dirty glasses after an adult party and mixed the stale leavings into something resembling a champagne cocktail.

The complications are ingeniously developed, the pace of Nigel Patrick’s direction keeps us looking happily forward to the next crisis and the last line is very neat indeed. Light as a soufflé.

The Spectator (Hilary Spurling)
An ingenious, airy structure of misunderstanding, diffidence, hairbreadth escapes from tactlessness, and the subtle, desperate ruses to which the polite are driven in order to avoid appearing gauche…. What marks the play as unmistakably of the ‘sixties is its technical maturity - the economy, adroitness and precision with which Mr Ayckbourn, at twenty-seven, deploys his slim resources.

Sunday Times (Harold Hobson)
This is a comedy of mistaken identity ingeniously worked out so that the one sensible word which would shatter the play into nothing is convincingly never spoken.

The Sun (David Nathan)
It is a fragile tower which miraculously remains upright in the teeth of those proverbial gales of laughter.

The Guardian (Philip Hope-Wallace)
Alan Ayckbourn’s new comedy
Relatively Speaking is a tear-away success at the Duke Of York’s Theatre. He can thank the direction of Nigel Patrick which is tirelessly inventive and dextrous and some very neat and expert comedy playing from a hand picked cast of four. But the skill with which he milks a simple situation of mistaken identity and cross purposes for two hours of continuous laughter is his own, and richly deserves the kind of response it is sure to awake for a long time to come.

The Times (Irving Wardle)
Relatively Speaking is a single-minded contribution to the theatre of pleasure; and for once I am compelled to admit the existence of a good play that has practically nothing to express…. He [Ayckbourn] tackles the theme simply as a game to be played as brilliantly as possible, and for once ‘brilliant’ exactly describes the result.

The Stage (R.B. Marriott)
Relatively Speaking] is stylish, in the sense it has it own distinctive, fine quality in approach and writing; witty with a comic sense that springs from penetrating observation of character, and is not merely the outcome of situation or superficial behaviour; and has depth because the author is saying something of importance while he endeavours to entertain. It is the best comedy seen in the West End for a considerable time.

What’s On (Kenneth A. Hurren)
Relatively Speaking may not be the most distinguished and elevating play of our time, but I shall burn a boat and say that, if it does nothing else, it exploits the business of mistaken identities more successfully than any piece on the English stage since Goldsmith’s She Stoops To Conquer. Actually, it does nothing else. Which is not a complaint. I merely mention it, not irrelevantly, but to emphasise the wondrous extent of Mr Ayckbourn’s expertise. He juggles with his single joke for some two hours, but with such skill and variety that the laughter it provokes is virtually continuous.

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.