RELATIVELY SPEAKING concerns two couples, one young and one middle-aged, each containing one unfaithful partner. Greg wants to marry Ginny, who has only recently broken off an affair with her boss, Philip. Ginny goes down to Philip’s country home to get back some love letters, after telling Greg that she is going to visit her parents. Greg follows her secretly, and for the rest of the afternoon we have the two couples assembled in Philip’s garden. Greg believes that Philip is Ginny’s father and that Philip’s wife, Sheila, is Ginny’s mother. Philip mistakenly gets the idea that Greg is having an affair with Sheila, and Sheila is led to believe that Ginny is nothing more than her husband’s secretary.
Modelled roughly on that most perfect of all well-made comedies, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST by Oscar Wilde, RELATIVELY SPEAKING is still considered by many critics to be Ayckbourn’s best crafted piece. It exposes a very shaky middle-class marriage and explores the first serious commitment of young love. The writing is stylish and witty, with a comic sense springing from a very penetrating observation of character. The play is not merely the outcome of situation or superficial behaviour; the characters all behave as real people. In his brilliant dialogue the author shows how people, more often than not, put the social graces before direct questioning or confrontation. The revelation of the real nature of the relationships is a fascinating satire on middle-class English life.