How the Other Half Loves

May 25 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Sharp

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 24 – Sat 27 May 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Edinburgh People’s Theatre give How The Other Half Loves at the Church Hill a malicious comic edge, in a production whose tempo and performances are praiseworthy.

Alan Ayckbourn’s 1969 play was one of his first real successes, and is still often revived. Bob Phillips and Fiona Foster attempt to cover up an affair by telling their respective spouses – Theresa and Frank – they were each consoling one of the Featherstones, William and Mary, over their (invented) marital problems.

Ade Smith (Bob), Gemma Dutton (Theresa), Pat Hymers (Frank) and Helen E Nix (Fiona). Pic: Graham Bell.

The cover up leads to the play’s most famous scene (and the earliest of Ayckbourn’s renowned high-concept theatrical devices) where two dinner parties at the Foster and Phillips households over consecutive nights are played out simultaneously on stage, with the Featherstones caught in the middle.

This virtuoso piece of theatricality, like so much else, is carried off with some aplomb by the cast and director Helen Hammond. Perhaps some of the transitions from one party to the other could be a little sharper, which might also be said of some of the more physical elements of the comedy elsewhere, but most of this is highly effective.

delicious clarity

The action unfolds in the two houses with assured tempo and delicious clarity on the composite set, designed by Andy Hope and striking in its sturdily built stripes, filled with a well chosen selection of late 60s-early 70s props. The lighting of Nigel Jarvis and Peter Horsfall’s sound also contribute to a remarkably smooth-running production.

While Ayckbourn himself claims the play is a comedy rather than a true farce, there are certainly farcical elements – not least the fact that Fiona’s husband Frank is the boss of the two other male characters, adding an extra layer of claustrophobia to the set-up.

Ade Smith (Bob), Claire Morand (Mary), Gemma Dutton (Theresa), Helen E Nix (Fiona) and Pat Hymers (Frank). Pic: Graham Bell.

Pat Hymers gives the pompous yet strangely vulnerable Frank a real presence. Trying (and failing) to assert his authority over everything from his employees to a recalcitrant electric toothbrush, he is constantly on the verge of hysteria without ever going over the top.

There is a real rhythm to his exchanges with Helen E. Nix as Fiona, whose frustration is palpable, and whose attempts to be the calculating deceiver are thwarted by the limitations of communication in the pre-mobile age.


Ade Smith’s Bob is a literal medallion man, an unreconstructed chauvinist whose relationship with the Guardian letters page-fixated Theresa (Gemma Dutton) is beyond volatile. Once again, there is a tremendously well-timed element to their exchanges, with the humour never quite concealing a profound sadness.

The whole cast throw themselves into portraying such recognisable grotesques with real commitment They manage to overcome a problem which can confound the least reserved of audiences – that so often Ayckbourn seems to be daring us to laugh at unspeakable people inflicting terrible harm on each other.

Claire Morand (Mary), Ade Smith (Bob), Helen E Nix (Fiona) and Andy Moseley (William). Pic: Graham Bell.

The passage of time does affect our reactions; the skewering of affectations and of the gap between our self-image and reality still rings true; other things date, not least the way domestic violence is treated so casually.

In many ways, it is the apparently easy-going William who comes off worst, when the true extent of his controlling, bullying nature reveals itself. There is an easy naturalism to Andy Molesey’s presentation of the character, at first apparently the innocent victim of others’ machinations, that makes some of his later lines even more chilling.

It is easy to see how his wife Mary came to be such a bundle of anxious tics, played with unfussy, effective comedy by Claire Morand.

It is also easy to see why this dark farce still appeals to companies more than 50 years on. It proceeds with an economic stagecraft, giving it a momentum that is hard to resist. EPT manage to sustain that momentum admirably.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes (including one interval).
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10 4DR.
Wed 24 – Sat 27 May 2023.
Wed – Fri: 7.30pm; Sat Mat: 2.30pm only.

Tickets and details: Book here.

EPT website:
Twitter: @EPeoplesTheatre
Facebook: @EdinburghPeoplesTheatre
Instagram: @epeoplestheatre

The set for How the Other Half Loves, designed by Andy Hope. Pic Graham Bell


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