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Relatively Speaking
The Star
By Rizal Johan

There's a lot you can learn from watching a comedy play and, at the
same time, laugh at things like infidelity. Relatively Speaking is one such play that delves into the darker aspects of relationships and although it does not make light of the abovementioned subject matter, it is nevertheless a hilarious look at the lengths people go to to be either in or out of a relationship.

Currently running until April 14 at The Actors Studio Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, the latest offering from Gardner & Wife (of Charley's Auntie! fame) has taken the original Alan Ayckbourn play and cleverly adapted it to modern-day Kuala Lumpur. Hence, what started as a British comedy has now become what could very well be a very Malaysian affair (pun intended). Kudos to writer-director Richard Harding Gardner for a job well done.

Now, there are only four principle characters involved here. Sofia Jane Hisham stars as local girl Ginny who has some skeletons left in her closet. West End actor Nick Barnes plays Greg, an English expat and Ginny's love interest who unfortunately can't take a hint to save his life. Thakurdas Jethwani plays Philip, Ginny's married ex-boss who can't keep his hands off her, and finally there is Sheila, Philip's innocent and slow-to-comprehend wife who is played by Anne James.

The first act begins at Ginny's apartment in Bangsar. Greg is rather amazed at the state of her apartment which is littered with bouquets of flowers and the cupboard which is full of chocolates. There's a bathrobe too big for either of them and someone keeps hanging up on Greg whenever he answers Ginny's handphone. When he approaches Ginny about all this, she just comes up with some rather far-fetched excuses but Greg, being a simple bloke, does not suspect a thing and asks for her hand in marriage instead. Sofia Jane Hisham as Ginny provides all the erratic behaviour necessary to her character while Nick Barnes contributes a whole lot of laughs to the play.

Ginny, on the other hand, is preparing to visit her parents, or so she tells Greg, when really she is going to Country Heights, Kajang, to put an end to her former relationship with Philip, the older and married man who has been showering her with all the gifts. Rather excited about meeting his future in-laws, Greg suggests to Ginny that he should come along as well. She protests of course, and leaves rather hurriedly for Kajang by train. Greg then decides to surprise Ginny by taking a taxi to Kajang where he thinks he'll meet up with her parents.

For the second and remaining acts, it all takes place in Philip's patio, where the audience is introduced to... Philip and his unassuming wife Sheila.

Philip is a bullish character who likes to complain for the sake of complaining and enjoys making fun of his wife. As it is a Sunday, he is perplexed as to why his wife has not left for church. She explains that it is the third Sunday after Trinity and she never attends church then. There is also the matter of a business trip to Europe that Philip will undertake in the months to come and coyly persuades Sheila why it's not a good idea for her to come along.

Then Greg shows up all hot and bothered from the heat and it's confusion all the way, or at the very least, everyone tries to comprehend the situation as best as he or she can. Then Ginny shows up and plays pretend with Philip as a father and daughter team. Both Ginny and Philip manage to keep suspicions at bay for awhile but Sheila catches on to their schemes at the end. Only Greg is the one who comes out of the whole thing none the wiser.

So, what do you learn from all this, you ask? Well, lies beget lies. When you are dishonest and have all the intention about keeping your past a secret, you concoct even bigger lies to make up for the smaller ones that you've told. Things may or may not end well for both couples, but what does it say about the liar? There is a twist at the end, which will not be disclosed here, but for someone like Ginny, the matter of trust arises. She has gone to such lengths to keep quiet about her previous affair that, at the end, you'd wonder whether you should trust what she says in the first place at all.

The whole cast was a delight to watch, especially Barnes and James who contributed a whole lot of laughs in the play. Thakurdas was perfectly cast for the role of Philip and brought his brand of Malaysian humour into it. Sofia did rather well by providing all the erratic behaviour necessary to her character. The sets were impressive and clever, especially the rotating bit when the scene changes. All in all, a very enjoyable play.