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Relatively Speaking
The Malay Mail
By Jad Mahidin

If Gardner & Wife continues putting up plays like its ongoing Relatively Speaking, there may be no more need to fly in foreign companies to give Malaysians good quality English comedy.

Moreover, director Richard Harding Gardner injects Malaysian idiosyncrasies into the classic plays he's done, something you can't find in shows staged by foreign groups.

Gardner & Wife has taken world-renowned plays and infused Malaysian humour and localities (Bangsar, Country Heights, etc.) into them to have the audience relate better to the goings-on on stage.

In this case, Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking, playing at Actors Studio Bangsar until Saturday, starring Sofia Jane Hisham as Ginny, Nick Barnes (Greg), Thakurdas Jethwani (Philip) and Anne James (Sheila).

Ginny is this spunky young Malaysian (her real name's Jamilah Salleh) engaged to expat English teacher Greg, and being pursued by the much-older Philip who obviously did not get enough from their past relationship.

Of course, all this is not known to sweet Sheila who dotes on husband Philip.

It's a talented cast playing Sir Alan's comedy, although Sofia's absence of two years from the acting world does show a little, and her Ginny obviously nervous about her past being found out by Greg, is not very convincing.

True, she has all the expressions but her voice projection at times slipped into overkill.

Sofia was little more convincing when she did Malam In Penyu Menangis at the Experimental Theatre some years ago but, in this one, shows that beauty alone doesn't make an actress.

Sofia's slightly rusty acting, though, makes Barnes look brilliant, relaxed and natural.

From the moment the lights shone on him yawning, woken by the ringing of Ginny's cellular telephone to the time he said his goodbyes to Philip and Sheila, Barnes was faultless as the sweet Mat Salleh teacher, obviously in love with a girl he's known for only three months.

Incidentally, Barnes recently completed a nine-month West End run of Alan Ayckbourn's Comic Potential.

Barnes' prowess is well met by Jethwani and James, two local talents who, not having had his extensive exposure, were absolutely adorable as the married Philip and Sheila. One could relate to Jethwani's dirty old man. Playing one of the most difficult roles, he knew when to confuse and when to let bits of the cat out of the bag.

To crown it, his chemistry with Barnes worked like magic, especially in their patio scene.

Anne James was also convincing as Sheila, often getting the audience on her side, thanks to all the deception going on. Credit must also go to set designed Annie Yong who used the Actors Studio's high-tech facilities to her advantage and Akma Suriati Awang whose costumes were perfect for each character.

Producer Chae Lian must have known what she was doing when she got this group together.