How the Other Half Loves

By Alan Ayckbourn

Theatre Royal Bath

Until Saturday October 7

ALAN Ayckbourn has the measure of well-meaning bumbling humanity where the guilty slip the net and the innocent cause havoc crashing around in a fog of misunderstanding.

How the Other Half Loves was one of his earliest plays, yet the concept and execution of the idea constitute a masterclass in comedy.

A minor infidelity, involving two of the six characters, involves the rest in a maelstrom of domestic chaos.

The set represents two households, but not simply positioned side by side. They intermesh with one another, which creates a brilliant scene of two dinner parties, with the same people on two different evenings, where the timing is split second perfect as the dialogue and action flicks from one household and one evening to the other. It is breathless stuff.

The cast features the cream of contemporary British comedy actors, Caroline Langrishe, Robert Daws, Sara Crowe and Matthew Cottle with Charlie Brooks and Leon Ockenden.

As an ensemble they were simply hilarious. They had the audience howling with laughter. But none more so than the inimitable scene-stealer Sara Crowe, playing the timid, mouse-like wife of a nice but boring husband. Her body language had us all cringing in sympathy with her agonizing social ineptitude, laughing with her, rather than at her.

Matthew Cottle is her perfect foil playing the husband with no discernable personality.

Robert Daws was a treat as the well-meaning, slightly pompous businessman whose firm grasp of the wrong end of the stick starts the whole farce rolling.

The evening is a sheer tonic. There is also some great nostalgic Sixties music as a scene setter.