Review: How the Other Half Loves, Theatre Royal, Norwich

Charlie Brooks and Robert Daws in How The Other Half Loves

Charlie Brooks and Robert Daws in How The Other Half Loves - Credit: Archant

Review: Eve Stebbing enjoys a classic Alan Ayckbourn farce, brilliantly delivered.

The times they are a changin', but Ayckbourn's classic farce delivers its treats with timeless panache.

Maybe that's because the playwright voices his views on the way his work is performed fairly firmly. His original play took place in 1969, and that's when he feels it should always be set. Updates are not advised - a fact that seems unreasonably draconian, until you consider that a joke is a fragile thing. Moving it about can be deadly. The well-observed dialogue of 1960s Britain needs to stay put in its proper setting or it just doesn't work.

Keeping us in the zeitgeist is the designer Julie Godfrey. Her box set envelops the actors in a mixture of groovy chic squalor and stuffy good taste. Dialling phones, showy chandeliers, kinky boots and psychedelic frocks all remind us of the era we're in.

Alan Strachan directs a stellar cast. Robert Daws as Frank Foster is stage-stealingly brilliant – his gentle and bumbling interpretation of the cuckolded old fool manages to be heartbreakingly good, whilst still keeping the humour. Caroline Langrishe is both elegant and supercilious as adulterous wife, Fiona.

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But although everyone on stage is a star-turn, the onus is on team-work. The job of keeping balls in the air as the complex plot zips along is the main object of the evening.

While they battle to keep up with the stories-lines of three very different couples, the actors must manage the complex demands of a script in which scenes overlap and separate realities play out simultaneously.

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The Fosters, the Phillips and the Featherstones are all involved in the intrigue created by Fiona's affair. Along with beau, Bob Phillips (Leon Ockenden), she weaves a tangled web as she practises deceit on all about her.

Confusion beckons at every moment. You can't help wondering if the cast will trip up over the constant shifts in place and time. It's like watching a ball being thrown between people at top speed, sure that at any moment, somebody must drop it.

But nothing falls to the floor. And what's more, it looks effortless.

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