How The Other Half Loves: Articles by Other AuthorsThis page contains articles on How The Other Half Loves by authors other than Alan Ayckbourn. The articles are the copyright of the respective author and should not be reproduced without permission.
How The Other Half Fights
by Paul Allen
Administrator's note: During the 1980s, there was a re-evaluation of Alan Ayckbourn and his plays. His tenure at the National Theatre combined with critical acclaim for plays such as A Small Family Business, Woman In Mind and Man Of The Moment led to an extensive re-appraisal of Ayckbourn’s contribution to British theatre. As a result of this, many of Alan’s early plays were re-appraised and found to be far more substantial than original reviews might have given credit for. There had always been long-term and insightful support of Alan’s work by writers such as Michael Billington and Paul Allen, but essays such as the one below by Paul Allen show that it was only in the light of Ayckbourn being considered as a ‘serious’ playwright, that more weight could be put on his earlier plays.
After the BBC showed Way Upstream at Christmas a viewer wrote in from the Isle of Wight to say she was totally "unprepared for the vicious violence that erupted on her screen". Vicious? Violent? But he always seemed such a nice man ....
Pressed by a particularly insistent editor, I once asked Alan Ayckbourn why there were no politics in his plays. The reply was patient (he is unfailingly friendly in interviews, considering) but a little terse: "There are politics in every line." I'm afraid there is violence in every line too; it has taken us rather a long time to face up to it, dazzled by the comedy and the element of crafty invention that has made each play a new departure. Perhaps that is why he spelled it out in Way Upstream, where the real shock is that a good and gentle, if also weak and indecisive, man has to take terrible action with a tin of baked beans in order to stand up to an even greater evil. There is more mayhem still in A Small Family Business, now in the repertoire at the National Theatre, which begins with a situation of minor and almost amiable corruption and ends with heroin addiction and murder. The irony, the point at which Ayckbourn himself does violence to our sensibilities, is in the way the plot is moved from mild immorality to the extremes of vice by one man's zeal for honour and truth. This is the writer who acknowledges Ibsen as an influence, given that he also believes there is terrible comedy in The Wild Duck.
These are of course plays of the 1980s and the received wisdom is that the playwright has moved from light to dark in the two decades he has been an established maker of hit theatre. Are you telling us, I hear you ask, to watch out for violence and the influence of Ibsen in How The Other Half Loves? Just when we thought we were safe to count on a carefree night out at the theatre?
I don't want to wreck the argument by overstating it and I certainly don't want to blight the sheer fun in which Ayckbourn delights more than most theatre practitioners. It is after all "play" time. But if you accept that violence can include intellectual, mental and psychological cruelty as well as physical aggression with a baked bean tin, the answer is well, yes.
Remember Just Between Ourselves? It dates from 1976 and is what people describe as the Morris Minor play. The aforesaid car is on stage throughout and much of the time its owner, Dennis, is tinkering with it, cherishing it, pampering it, loving it. He is doing none of these things with his wife, Vera, and the result is what Michael Billington has called "an uncompromising study of uncomprehending destructiveness." It isn't all Dennis's fault - he is imitating his father and clearing a space from his unsurprisingly possessive mother. It isn't anybody's fault, but Vera is being driven mad, destroyed. The violence is emotional and it is an absence, a neglect, of action. But it is real. The play is also bitterly funny, as a TV production with Richard Briers and Rosemary Leach a few years ago made clear. Asked for help by Vera, Dennis can only think of DIY jobs around the house. Dennis laughs a lot.
Let's go further back. Absent Friends in 1974 is peopled entirely with miserable characters except for Colin, recently bereaved, whose unembarrassed readiness to talk about his dead fiancée inevitably brings everyone else's emotional skeletons rattling out of the cupboard. The Norman Conquests, memorably produced at Greenwich the same year, with the events of one household on one afternoon seen in three different but simultaneous plays according to which part of the house or garden the audience is supposed to be in, chronicled the emotional wreckage left in his wake by a not-especially-prepossessing librarian who pursues his own needs at whatever cost to anyone else. He does them violence.
Mostly the violence is done by men to women and our sympathy is therefore earned for, and some of the best parts are written for, Ayckbourn's female characters. What that analysis leaves out is that Ayckbourn doesn't show men in a bad light simply as men: what he really dislikes about them is that they have the power to impose their views and purposes and requirements on others. They stick their oars into other people's business and where their own business is involved they grant no rights and freedoms to others. Where those rights are taken, they curtail and inhibit and belittle the exercise of them. Emotion being the biggest threat to the order they demand, they cut out emotion. Sound anything like Frank Foster in How The Other Half Loves?
The way the plays have changed, I think, is not in their subject matter or the point of view Ayckbourn takes. They have become more complex. It is getting less and less easy to find the easy single phrase that makes everyone remember each play, the code under which tonight's becomes "the dinner party play." Where once you felt able to make a distinction between the farces and the others - though even Taking Steps has a man in tears on stage at precisely the moment the laughter is loudest - now he integrates comedy and painfully serious comment.
Has he written anything funnier than the first time two all-at-odds married couples try to dock a boat in Way Upstream? It is ruthlessly truthful too. Or a better opening sequence than that in A Small Family Business in which a businessman comes home with a pressing urge to take his wife to bed only to discover when he's already got his trousers off that she has a surprise party waiting in the darkened sitting room? Each of course was assuming the supremacy of his or her plan - assuming that no other plan could exist. The link between comedy and violence has long been as obvious as Tom and Jerry but it has generally been recognised at that unthreateningly simple cartoon level. It would be unthinkable for Tom and Jerry to live and let live, still less for either to want the other to find fulfilment. We aspire to better things; when we fall short it is still funny, but rarely is it only funny.
Any assessment of Alan Ayckbourn is in the nature of an interim report, as Michael Billington has also pointed out. He is prolific and he is forever playing new games, always a jump or two ahead. What, for instance, do you make of a creative artist who, without qualms, puts real and vulnerable human experience on stage for the rest of us to laugh at? He's thought of that. It's in Henceforward… the play seen in Scarborough last summer and now on a British Council tour to Europe and the Middle East.
How The Other Half Loves remains a play of 1969, set in 1969. I merely suggest we can find more in it, knowing what we know now, than we did then. In another 18 years, if we are all here, we shall certainly have more to bring to it still.
Copyright: Paul Allen
How I failed to touch Mr Beaumont for £1000 on the way to the Lyric, and other adventures
By Robert Morley
Administrator's note: In 1972, actor Robert Morley wrote a remarkable article to mark the 700th performance of How The Other Half Loves at the Lyric Theatre, London. This extensive article (abridged here, but still extensive!) gave his insight into his entire involvement with the play and offers a fascinating alternative perspective to thow the play was originally produced in the West. Unfortunately, there is no record of the publication or when it was published.
In April 1970 there seemed little point in going to Leicester, where How The Other Half Loves was being given a second chance at the local repertory theatre, the first production of the play at Scarborough some months before having satisfied neither author nor management. The invitation had come from Peter Bridge, whom I knew only slightly. On the other hand, I had to find myself a play and a new management. Hugh Beaumont, of H. M. Tennent, with whom I had been closely connected for much of my theatrical life, and I had come to the parting of the ways….
What finally decided me to go to Leicester was a race meeting at Stratford-on-Avon, where a horse of mine was entered to run. On the map Leicester seemed fairly close. There was a time when I knew every provincial city in England. I spent 10 years of my life on tour, but I had forgotten Leicester. In any case it appeared to have been re-planned recently with multi-storey car parks to depress me with their biological under-stains and crush barriers to keep back non-existent crowds. The object of the exercise is that you should drive straight through such cities these days without stopping, or indeed noticing that they are there at all.
I was surprised to find the theatre in a bus depot, but I suppose even that makes sense in a way. A handy sort of house with raked seats and a flat stage, the convenience of a curtain was dispensed with, so that when the furniture had to be changed halfway through the first act, an entirely separate production was mounted with a ringmaster and uniformed circus hands. The audience enjoyed it hugely. I thought they quite liked the play.
After the performance several patrons accosted Robin Midgley, who had directed the piece, with advice on how to improve it. He struck me then, as he does now, as an eminently patient, reasonable and above all resourceful fellow. About the play I was not so certain. The most serious snag seemed to me that most of the goods were displayed in the first act, the climax of which was an immensely complicated coup de theatre in which two players contrived to attend separate and simultaneous dinner parties.
'Is it, do you suppose,' I asked John Jonas, who drives me around on these occasions and nurses me through the performances I do decide to give, 'is it, do you suppose, too clever by half?' Mr Jonas on this occasion seemed not to share my anxiety. 'A thoroughly good evening,' he insisted on the way home. 'I don't know why you didn't enjoy it more.'
I think it was his enthusiasm as much as anything else that decided me to go ahead. It was after all an even money chance, and this has always seemed generous odds to me. I had certain reservations, and having told Peter Bridge that I was game at least up to a point, hoped for the next couple of weeks to get the play altered, but found Alan Ayckbourn, the author, fairly obdurate and inclined to prefer his own ideas to mine.
I started out by demanding that the baby in the play should be replaced by an elkhound, and that I should be encouraged to participate in the celebrated dinner scene dressed in Japanese costume. Both suggestions were resisted tooth and nail, and on reflection correctly. After two years I can't pretend to have made much of Alan Ayckbourn, an eminently cautious fellow, not given to hanging round the cast, remembering the anniversaries of the play or bunching his leading ladies. About his play's quite phenomenal success he evinces little emotion, hugging himself, if he does so at all, in secret.
Having got me to agree to do the play, Peter Bridge's immediate tasks were to find the money and the theatre with which, and in which, to present How The Other Half Loves. The money presented no problem. There was an embarrassment of would-be investors. All he had to do was to circularise the list of prospective backers with which all managers provide themselves, and the £18,000 for which he asked to mount the production was subscribed overnight. The Angels on this occasion smelt success. Both the author and myself had been previous winners over the course, and almost uniquely Peter was able to produce two notices written by national critics on the strength of the Leicester production, predicting a London success for the play when it was eventually produced there. You could hardly ask for more, and no one did. Indeed one of the backers, Eddie Kulukundis, of whom we shall hear more later, wanted to provide all the capital required from his own pocket.
Without the Sunday notices written by Ronald Bryden (The Observer) and Frank Marcus (Sunday Telegraph) it is possible that nothing much more would ever have been heard of the play after Leicester. The local notices for the piece were not particularly encouraging, and interest in a London production had all but ceased.
The problem of obtaining a suitable West End theatre was, as usual, more complicated….
Bridge was now free to proceed at his peril, the date when he would be able to conclude negotiations for a theatre some weeks off, and with no guarantee that he would get one at all, should business in the West End suddenly spurt. He could find himself, as he did with his recent production of On The Rocks, up in the clouds circling the airport without permission to land, and if the tour proved financially disastrous, running out of gas.
Rehearsals began on my birthday at the Irish Club. I had not then, and still haven't, the faintest idea what normally goes on at the Irish Club, apart from the sale of the Irish Times in the hall, but I climbed the stairs to the room reserved for the first rehearsal and found Bridge had invited a few press photographers along for a drink and the hope that they would take pictures of myself cutting my birthday cake. There is surely no duller subject for portraiture, or one an editor is more easily able to reject, than an actor poised over confectionery, but the attempt has to be made….
It was at the first rehearsal that I met Eddie Kulukundis and learnt he was to be a partner in the enterprise which Bridge, possibly scenting battle, had christened Agincourt Productions Ltd. My first impression was that of a large, untidy and likeable Greek who was constantly ducking his head in a basin, not to cool it, but to get his hair to lie down.
His recent impact on theatre-land was already proving sensational. Word had got round that there was a stranger in town and back at the old saloon they were busy polishing the glasses and getting out the old deck of cards. Here was a tenderfoot aiming to join in the poker game and there was no lack of players anxious for him to draw up a chair and sweeten the pot….
When I asked Bridge why we were rehearsing at the Irish Club, he told me proudly that coming up from Berkshire every morning I would find it easier to park. 'On the first night,' I told him, 'I am expected to make a speech excusing our state of unprepared-ness on the grounds that we are all keen motorists?' I hate rehearsing in rooms as opposed to on stage. I find the space confining, the stage management sits on top of you, prompt book in hand, my mind wanders, reflecting on the decor, marvelling that people normally carouse in these surroundings, give wedding receptions and children's parties. Public rooms are haunted for me by the ghosts of failed functions.
I seldom enjoy myself at rehearsals. I am back in the classroom I so hated: the director is a beak, sometimes a decent beak, but a beak nevertheless. This is his hour, his month in fact. We normally rehearse for about that long. He is here to see we do the work as he wishes it done. Some actors suck up to the master, follow him around, take his hand on the walk, call him Sir, bring him flowers. I am not one of them. Between him and me there is always hostility of a kind often manufactured by myself. I am stimulated by conflict, like to be the one who hurls the rubber while he is intent on the blackboard….
I like a director to take my side. I demand it. My current task-master, Robin Midgley, took my side from the first.
I've got so old now that I am no longer a challenge to directors, just something they wish they could move around and can't. Which is not to say I don't make concessions; on this occasion I made one or two. I didn't interfere with the casting, except to insist that Joan Tetzel played my wife. No one seemed all that keen, not even Tetzel. She had done The Little Hut with me, so was more or less prepared….
As is usually the case with playwrights who deliver their plays into my hands, Ayckbourn began to grow restless quite early on. He had already seen his play rehearsed twice before and had fairly set notions of what it was all about. At the back of his mind, as indeed is nearly always at the back of authors' minds, was the idea that he had written a more significant play than I supposed. Moreover he insisted that all the characters except perhaps my own were fundamentally unlikable.
This didn't do for Tetzel. She was not, as far as she was concerned, playing a bitch and had no intention of doing so. The final confrontation was to come later at Leeds, but meanwhile there was a certain amount of muttering on both sides. I have always held that to make a steady income in our business, which should be all actors' ambition, one cannot afford to play unsympathetic parts. However much praise is lavished on you by the critics, the audience gradually comes to associate you with the unlikable characteristics you have assumed in the cause of art. After a time they simply won't pay to go and see you. With the notable exception of Vincent Price, who keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek, few heavies grow rich. Tetzel and I were quite determined on this point. 'If they don't like us,' we told Ayckbourn, 'they won't come, and where will your little play be then?'
The other leading lady, Heather Sears, seemed much more disposed to go along with the author than we were. Heather, and subsequently Mary Miller who took over from her after a few months, both believed they were in a piece which had something to say quite apart from the laughs. They both spent considerable time with the director establishing the character. They were ready to discuss, for instance, whether the girl they were portraying read the Guardian before the New Statesman, and how many goldfish should be in the goldfish bowl, and the sort of toys they would provide for that off-stage baby. By this I don't mean they inaugurated the discussions or wasted time unduly, but they chatted around with Midgley whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Midgley is a great chatter, but he is also a workmanlike director who runs a very successful theatre in Leicester and knows the curtain has to go up some time. On the whole he held the balance fairly between those who wished to find truth in the play and those who wanted to know where to stand, or more important perhaps, where the others in the cast were intending to stand.
Donald Burton played Heather's husband, and I never quite understood where he stood. He always arrived at rehearsal carrying a furled umbrella which was also a sword-stick, and with a scarf tied high round his neck, reminding me of the late Queen Alexandra masking the dewlaps. He is a very good actor who also, as far as I am concerned, breaks all the rules in that he insists on altering his appearance for each role he undertakes. In my view quite fatal. They must know who you are and what you are going to do as soon as you step on the stage in my book. Burton on the other hand seems to invite them to ask which part he played.
Donald's great passion in life seems to be lighting. I don't mean what most actors mean by lighting, how many of the spots one can appropriate, I mean domestic lighting. He claimed to be able to lie in his bath and adjust the dimmers so that the perfect Mediterranean effect was achieved on the soap suds. I was always taught not to fiddle with current in the bath, but he seemed to come to no harm. Similarly from his bed erotic effects could be created, and even the dawn simulated when it was time for the guest to leave.
I hoped he'd ask me round; don't think he liked me very much. Perhaps he realised I would never be able to discuss dimmers seriously. I like the lights full up all the time, but will allow imaginative directors to keep them low until I burst into view, after which the rule, if I am allowed to make it, is light, light and still more light.
The other two members of the cast were Brian Miller and Elizabeth Ashton. Both having been in the original production at Scarborough, Alan decided that the parts could never conceivably be better played than by them, and he was right. They knew exactly what they were up to from the very beginning, refused to be swayed or disturbed by the uncertain manoeuvring of the rest of us and held firm. I cannot imagine what would have happened to the play without them. The rest of us used them, and still do, as anchor buoys.
After a week rehearsals moved to the Haymarket, where Midgley could sit in the stalls and leave us to get on with it. But for some reason he seemed to prefer a chair at the side of the stage. I have never known a director who sat so long on top of a company. Otherwise I had no fault to find with him, or with the script.
Normally I am a glutton for rewriting, but after my initial failure with this piece I thought it best to bide my time, say the lines the author had written and only when I found they didn't work with an audience, get him to alter them or preferably alter them myself. Directing is like cooking in the sense that all the dishes should ideally come to perfection at the same moment. Some actors boil almost immediately, while others take ages to rise.
There comes a time too when all of us demand an audience. 'Mummy, watch me,' we cry, and if Mummy isn't planning to visit the nursery for another week, the squabbles are liable to start. At the end of the month we were just about ready. The curtains had been drawn, the stage set. Arrayed in our costumes, we awaited the arrival of the grown-ups. They could hardly have been more appreciative in Leeds had they in fact been our relatives. We didn't pack the theatre, but business built, and we were complimented in teashops. There is nothing the English dislike more than having to talk to people they haven't met. When happens to an actor, he knows he is on a winner….
One morning saw a glorious row on the stage. A last attempt by the director and the author to get Tetzel to play it tough. She held firm. 'Do you mean to tell me,' asked Robin, 'that you are not going to play the part as we wish it played?' 'Yes. If you want it played that way, you must get someone else.' 'Two someone elses,' I told them, relishing the confrontation. That was the end, more or less….
After a fortnight we moved to Nottingham…. It is in Nottingham that I hear Bridge has been offered the Lyric [theatre]….
We still had three more weeks on the road, Wimbledon and Brighton, but these passed uneventfully, There was not a lot more rehearsing to be done, and no rewrites. Everything would now depend on the first night at the Lyric.
The first night of a play in London is still a formidable obstacle, the Beechers Brook of the National course. In recent years attempts have been made to modify the jump somewhat. The supreme confrontation is no longer sought by management, as used to be the case.
Before the war, when the theatre catered largely for the stalls public, managers regarded their first night list as all important, and spent hours at work on the Sheet. The idea was to seat the critics in warm nests of appreciation, although taking care they should not be irritated by loud laughter and bursts of applause while they themselves were scribbling notes in the dusk….
But the days when first nights were great social occasions is over. In point of fact nowadays it is quite difficult to fill the house at all, and after the friends of the cast have been accommodated, the manager may be hard put to it to find a representative audience and not one composed almost exclusively of fellow managers, agents, film producers and television directors who have seen it all before and are not all that keen to see it again. This is one of the reasons why previews are encouraged. The actors get a chance of playing themselves in and the professionally interested need no longer all come on the same evening.
On the whole, How The Other Half Loves at the Lyric Theatre on the night of 5 August 1970 played much as it had been playing for the last six weeks and the notices, when they appeared, were with one exception uniformly encouraging. Only Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times was unwontedly abrasive. He reported that most of the cast gave performances which looked as if they had been recruited from the rejects of the annual pantomime in a backward village, or could he have written originally a backwoods village? We shall never know. By the time his notice appeared we were home and dried.
The Morley Factor
by Simon Murgatroyd
“I’ve left a trail of sadder but far, far richer playwrights behind me”
These are the infamously perceptive words of the actor Robert Morley to the young playwright Alan Ayckbourn following the success of How The Other Half Loves in London. For years afterwards, the play was associated with the exuberant actor and thought of as little more than a clever farce with little cerebral content to it. Morley may have made Alan financially richer, but was there a dramatic cost?
The noted critic and Ayckbourn-observer Michael Billington strongly believes the popularity and success of the play did Alan few favours in the long run.
“But precisely because, with [Relatively Speaking] and How The Other Half Loves, Ayckbourn established himself as a commercial goldmine and a bankable talent it led, I believe, to a serious underestimation of his real worth. Nothing in England arouses more suspicion, particularly amongst the intellectual classes, than popularity. Any dramatist who has the capacity to keep large numbers of people amused or preoccupied is automatically branded as second-rate. Not only was Ayckbourn popular: he actually wrote comedies, which was further proof that he was Division Two stuff not to be ranked with the big boys like Osborne, Pinter, Arden, Wesker, Storey.”
Could things have been different? Potentially. As Billington points out, How The Other Half Loves became popularly regarded as another light comedy in the vein of Relatively Speaking, largely thanks to Morley, doing both the playwright and the play a disservice as Billington writes.
“Initially the true nature of the play was somewhat obscured in London by Robert Morley’s idiosyncratic star performance. Ayckbourn is basically an ensemble writer: his work needs to be performed either by a permanent company or by stars of equal weight. When Peter Bridge cast Robert Morley in the role of Frank Foster in the initial London production, the play inevitably changed its character.”
To stay with Billington, it is worth asking what he felt the true nature of the play was and what the critics missed during the original London run.
“Ayckbourn’s technical legerdemain - comparable to anything in Goldoni’s The Servant Of Two Masters - was not an end in itself: it was a means of exploring the impact of class, income and education on sexual behaviour. As time went by, it would become even clearer that Ayckbourn was infinitely more than a supplier of amiable divertissements.”
Morley was a powerful and popular force in the theatre, but as a result had undue influence on the play. As he himself would have conceded, by this stage in his career audiences were coming to see him and not necessarily the play. This could put immense strain on any play as the actor took huge liberties, as Alan Ayckbourn notes.
“He always treats the theatre as one huge game organised by himself. The joy of the man is that he does have great enjoyment for what he does, an infectious, playful enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the people who suffer are the people who are on stage with him, or who are attempting to get on stage with him. And there's a few working actors ploughing doggedly through their script, clutching on to their characterisation, which he almost delights in bombarding and trying to upset - hiding their props and locking the door and jumping out at them from cupboards. Which is all right but it tends to make them look awfully ropey. It also tends to make the play look a little bit ropey. In the case of How The Other Half Loves, he tended to improvise round the theme quite a lot, but - because it was such a complex plot - he was unable to do perhaps as much as he would like to have done with it…. With How The Other Half Loves, I didn't actually go to see it after a bit, because there was no point in getting unnecessarily upset. I was a younger, more vulnerable author then. The night I did see it, I was terribly upset, because nothing seemed to be as we had originally arranged it.”
During rehearsals, Ayckbourn would apparently “sit rather quietly and weep in corners” whilst the director Robin Midgley clashed with Morley, who attempted to impose his own vision of the play. It is hard to know now what the audiences witnessed in London, but one suspects it wasn’t quite the play about marital discord imagined by Alan Ayckbourn.
“[Morley] is in a sense an actor-manager. He wanted all the parts played as he wanted to play it. Now that wasn't necessarily the way that Robin wanted them or I wanted them. Fiona, in How The Other Half Loves, is really a quite vicious character: she's not as vicious as some of her later versions, but she's an unfaithful wife who deceives her husband and plays a very sly game. Robert wouldn't have any of that. Her attitude to her husband up to the end was one of crushing and withering sarcasm a lot of the time. Robert insisted that anyone who was on stage with him should look as if they loved him…. I remember him quite vehemently saying, 'Look, nobody wants to come to the theatre and see people squabbling' - which dismissed about three-quarters of English drama, I should have thought. But he said, 'We don't want all these nasty cross people, and people shouting at each other.' A lot of How The Other Half Loves is about people getting extremely angry with each other, and when you get into the realms of Bob and Terry, whose whole relationship is teetering on the edge of disaster, and you start laying down the law and saying, 'No, you must love each other', then you aren't left with a lot of the mainspring of the play.”
Many of the London critics were not terribly kind to the dialogue, but judging by this, it is extremely hard to know how much of Alan’s original script and intentions were left by the time Morley had finished with the play. The damage to Ayckbourn’s fledgling reputation summarised by the noted critic John Russell Taylor who did not know whether Alan qualified “as a ‘new dramatist’ or must be written down as a crass conservative sublimely irrelevant.” Taylor’s writing at the time clearly indicates he favoured the latter.
Yet it might have been so different. Prior to the West End opening, there was a try-out of the play in Leicester without star names, directed by Midgley, and which received extremely positive reviews, ironically leading to the decision to take the play to London and the casting of Robert Morley by the show’s producer Peter Bridge. Surviving reviews of the Leicester production from The Observer, Financial Times and Sunday Telegraph indicate a play that was appreciated far more for its innovation and characterisation. With an ensemble company, the critics picked up on the subtleties of the play which were lost in London:
“The opportunities for comparative observation of subtle differences of behaviour, dictated by class, age, money and - by implication - political affiliation are great, and Mr Ayckbourn uses them with unfailing economy and effect (Frank Marcus, Sunday Telegraph)."
“[Ayckbourn] also shows himself adept at reproducing the vapid and inane conversation of embarrassed people, his characters being embarrassed most of the time (B.A. Young, Financial Times).”
Arguably, the critics in Scarborough and Leister had a far better perception of the play than their apparently more experienced West End counterparts. This perhaps best illustrated by the fact Alan’s adroit use of stage space and time was patently obvious and worthy of mention in most of the pre-West End reviews; an aspect of the play which Alan was amazed to find was apparently lost on the West End critics.
“One of the most extraordinary things about the whole West End experience, the first time around, was that while it contained elaborately sophisticated time shifts, and was an extraordinary piece of staging - with that superimposed stage - not a single critic, to my knowledge, ever mentioned it. So something had got blurred! It's not normal, I'd have thought - it certainly wasn't normal in our time - for people to do English light comedy with superimposed time scales and, at one point, there were three sets of people on stage, two of them living at different time levels and one pair living at both time levels. It really is quite complicated, and nobody even mentioned it.”
In truth, some critics did pick up on this but it was largely dismissed as a gimmick around which the play hung. Of course, what surrounded the structure was precisely what was lost through Morley’s interpretation of the play.
The result of this must have been disappointing to the playwright. In the aftermath of How The Other Half Loves, Alan found huge success - not to be knocked - but was routinely dismissed as no more than a clever farceur. It is extraordinary to think his next two plays Time And Time Again and Absurd Person Singular, which laid the foundations of Alan’s tragi-comic themes, were regarded in the same farcical vein as Relatively Speaking and How The Other Half Loves. Indeed when plays such as Just Between Ourselves could not be comfortably put into Alan’s allotted box, there was much debate as to why he was trying to move away from his roots as a comic playwright and whether he should be doing this; despite the fact that to most seasoned observers of his work, Alan’s plays had been heading in this direction since Time And Time Again six years earlier. Arguably, it would be the 1980s before Alan would be seriously regarded as being much more than farceur by many major critics.
Yet how different this might have been had How The Other Half Loves been presented as intended and the producer had the confidence to install an ensemble cast in the London production. It is hard to argue the play would not have been as much a success as Relatively Speaking, if not quite of the same magnitude. The pay-off would have been a comedy perhaps recognised at the time for its technical innovation, social observation and biting comment on relationships that were all to become Alan’s hallmarks.
Copyright: Robert Morley, Paul Allen and Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.