How The Other Half Loves: Synopsis

Cast: 3 male / 3 female
Running time (approximate): 2 hours - not including the interval
Acting edition: Published by Samuel French

How The Other Half Loves has a single set, which represents two separate but over-lapping living rooms. One is a smart room with reproduction period furniture (the Fosters’ home); the other more contemporary and shabby (The Phillips’ home). Action takes place in both houses simultaneously allowing the playwright to play with both stage space and time during the course of the play. Alan Ayckbourn firmly believes for the play to work, it has to be set as a period piece in the autumn of 1969.

How The Other Half Loves concerns three couples: Frank and Fiona Foster; Bob and Teresa Phillips; William and Mary Featherstone. Frank employs both Bob and William and is considering promoting the latter. Bob is having an affair with Frank’s wife Fiona and is in constant conflict with his own wife, Teresa. She feels Bob is neglecting her while she raises their baby and is suspicious of his actions and phantom phone-calls made to the house. When he returns late, she confronts him about his actions and he lies that he has been comforting work associate William, who believes his wife Mary is having an affair.

Frank and Fiona’s relationship is in stark contrast to the torrid emotions of Bob and Teresa’s. They share a polite, distant and evasive relationship and when Frank asks Fiona where she has also been, she lies and says she has been comforting Mary - who she barely knows - who believes William is having an affair. Of course, William and Mary are innocent parties and neither of the adulterers realise they have both implicated the Featherstones in their alibis. Both Bob and Fiona swear their partners to secrecy - particularly as both couples are entertaining the Featherstones on successive nights.

The second scene concerns the dinner parties, both performed simultaneously (William and Mary sit on swivelling seats so as to ‘move’ from one party to the other). At the Fosters, the Featherstones are treated to a polite and banal evening with William desperately trying to impress Frank in the hope of a promotion. At the Phillips, the couple attempt to be a calming influence on Bob and Teresa’s fiery relationship, but are dragged into a destructive and very physical argument. Of course, all the Featherstones’ efforts are doomed to failure anyway as members of both parties suspect both William or Mary of sexual indiscretions. At the climax of the disastrous evenings, William is accidentally doused with soup thrown by Teresa at Bob and finds himself sitting beneath a leak from the Fosters’ upstairs toilet.

In Act Two, Bob and Teresa are on the verge of splitting up. Mary comes round to try and help and to get away from William, as a result meeting Bob. Teresa has meanwhile gone to the Fosters and realises Bob has been having an affair with Fiona. She returns home. Frank calls Bob’s house, but the phone is picked up by Mary. Frank presumes Bob and Mary are having an affair. He tells William this, who goes round to confront Bob - who by then has patched things up with Teresa. William arrives and attacks Bob with a monkey wrench only to be knocked out by Teresa.

With matters totally confused, largely due to Frank’s clumsy interventions, he summons everyone to his house to clear the air - although he still believes Bob’s affair is with Mary. He soon realises his mistake and when the truth emerges, William is forced to apologise to Mary - or as close as he can come to an apology. Mary forgives him in a simple but devastating critique of her husband and their marriage. Bob and Teresa settle their differences and reach an understanding of sorts. After the couples have left, Fiona admits to Frank she has had a casual fling but manages not to reveal with whom. Frank forgives her at the mention of a reconciliation dinner.

As the play ends, Frank suddenly realises he may know who Fiona was having an affair with. He rings Bob, only for Teresa to pick up the phone. She immediately believes he is the phantom caller and a confused Frank agrees to meet Teresa privately to discuss his problems and frustrations….

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.