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Relatively Speaking
By Juliana Choo

"Comedy for the sake of comedy" - something director Richard Harding Gardner, together with producer Chae Lian, wanted to introduce to our theatre scene. So, they're giving us Relatively Speaking - with movie star Sofia Jane thrown into the bargain. And if you think British comedy is the cat's whiskers, you probably won't be disappointed with Gardner's version of Alan Ayckbourn's hit play.

Ginny is a young, attractive girl who wants to marry naive Greg. But first, she has to break it off with her ex-lover, Philip, a married man. She tells Greg she's going to visit her parents, when, in fact, she's going to Philip's house to tell him things are absolutely over. Things get hilariously complicated when Greg arrives before Ginny does, and thinks that Philip and his wife, Sheila, are Ginny's parents.

Relatively Speaking was written by Ayckbourn in the 1960s, but Gardner has given this version a local flavour, making three out of the four characters locals. The play takes place in present-day KL, and the audience even gets to take an LRT ride. The localisation of the play works out well, and makes the proceedings and the characters a lot easier to relate to.

Instead of being one of those brain-dead comedies with cardboard characters, this one comes to life, thanks to the four actors who bring colour and sparkle to their roles. Thakurdas Jethwani, having being away from the stage for many years, makes a great comeback as Philip. He has the dirty-old-man act down pat, playing the jantan miang gleefully. Anne James (who last appeared in Huzir Sulaiman's Those Four Sisters Fernandez) plays the dazed and confused Sheila so convincingly that you can't help but laugh at her helplessness. (And she has some of the best lines.) West End actor Nick Barnes reprises his role as Greg, and you can tell he's having fun with the "localised script," calling for him to speak several lines in BM. Sofia Jane is, of course, that recognisable starlet that you'd have expected to see. She plays Ginny quite capably, although her body language occasionally spoils her lines - she unintentionally comes across rather prissy, especially during the hugging scenes with Greg. Unfortunately, it's clear that there's no chemistry between Sofia's Ginny and Barnes' Greg, leaving the mushy scenes disappointingly flat.

The first thing you'd notice about the set is how realistic everything looks. None of those fake kitchen cabinets here - we have fully functional cupboards and real furniture. The set change from Ginny's Bangsar apartment to Philip's Country Heights home takes quite some time, but the wait is worth it. The sets are impressively detailed, right down to the potted plants, paintings, and colour-coordinated furniture.

Compared to last year's Charley's Auntie, the humour in Relatively Speaking is more toned down and more mature - but a whole lot funnier. This is a simple story, albeit with a few twists and turns, but its simplicity is its best feature. Although Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking is an inherently British play, Gardner's adaptation successfully anchors it on Malaysian soil. And it's a funny play with absurdly funny characters. It may occur to you how easily all those silly misunderstandings could have been avoided - but where's the fun in that?