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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
RELATIVELY SPEAKING
at Wyndham's Theatre

TANGLED BED SHEETS
By SAM MARLOWE

  Ph: Nobby Clark

The 60s are swinging, and it’s not just the bed sheets that get tangled in this 1967 comedy by Alan Ayckbourn – the first major hit for the dramatist with his gimlet gaze fixed on English middle-class angst, pretence and politesse. Generally light in tone and broadly funny, the play is less satisfying than its author’s finest. But the sublime blend of aching hilarity, mundane melancholy and casual cruelty that would become his hallmark is here, if in more dilute form. And Lindsay Posner’s revival is adroit and well acted.
 
There’s a Wildean wit to the farcical set-up, which, like The Importance of Being Earnest, involves romantic and familial complications in town and country, and is propelled by information gleaned from words inscribed on a receptacle for tobacco – though tellingly, in Wilde’s play it’s a silver cigarette case, in Ayckbourn’s a squashed fag packet. Kara Tointon, confident, leggy and sensual in a floral mini skirt, her hair perkily bobbed, is Ginny, an independent young woman working in London. She’s been bringing various lovers back to her tatty flat, with its single bed, gritty kitchenette and stained walls adorned with movie posters; Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s smiles down, a dubiously glamorous role model for the urban single girl. Lately, though, Ginny’s become attached to Greg (Max Bennett), a chap of modest prospects who is in turn besotted with her – though perturbed by her string of affairs. He rather suspects – thanks largely to some strange phone calls, and the proliferation of extravagant bouquets around her otherwise dingy domicile – that one of his rivals might still be lurking, and is eager to put a ring on Ginny’s finger. So when Ginny announces she’s off to Buckinghamshire to visit her parents and he finds the address scrawled on a cigarette pack, he secretly follows her to check up on her story and get their blessing. 
 
Except Ginny’s not planning a family Sunday at all, but a showdown with her older, married ex-lover Philip (Jonathan Coy) who, refusing to accept that Ginny’s lost interest, has been making a nuisance of himself. Philip isn’t expecting Ginny, and he certainly isn’t expecting Greg; and Ginny hadn’t bargained for the presence of Sheila (Felicity Kendal), who has inconveniently decided not to go to church. But with everyone either too well-mannered, too compromised or too plain confused to cut through the muddle, the ill-assorted quartet end ups sitting down to a lunch of roast pork on the patio, the summer air as alive with deceptions, denials and misapprehensions as it is with birdsong and buzzing insects.
 
Coy’s Philip, pricklingly aware of how ridiculous he and his pursuit of Ginny have become, combines comical shock, rage and bluster with a thick seam of real nastiness. It intensifies our sympathy for Kendal as his neglected wife, whom he refers to as if she were a costly vintage car (“she costs me £30 a week to run”) and treats like a tedious halfwit. Kendal, perplexed but pleased by the unexpected company of her young visitors, happily imbibes sherry and wine throughout the afternoon and becomes a drowsy, drunken butterfly in the sun – yet when the truth begins to unravel, her quiet desolation is enormously touching. Tointon has an alluring warmth, but enough spark and skittishness to make you wonder whether Ginny will ever really settle down. Bennett’s Greg is as likable as he is maddening, his eager adoration and clumsy attempts to assert himself all too likely to become an irritant for his intended. The matrimonial disappointments of their future, and of Philip and Sheila’s present, are the sour undertaste in a production that’s as crisp and airy as meringue, and effortlessly entertaining.

 


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