How the Other Half Loves at The Mill at SonningBy Vicky Wong
March 01, 2012
Three couples, two dinner parties, and one affair. No, it’s not a bad episode of Come Dine With Me but the plot of classic comedy How the Other Half Loves.
Celebrated as one of the best plays of its time, Alan Ayckbourn's twisted tale of love and misunderstandings will be unravelled at The Mill at Sonning in April.
John Arthur plays Frank Foster, the manager of a large company whose wife Fiona (played by Karen Ascoe) is having an affair with one of Frank’s employees, Bob Phillips (Neil Andrew).
Bob puts his wife Teresa (Penelope Rawlins) at ease by telling her his colleague William Featherstone (Harry Gostelow) is the one having an affair.
But to add to the confusion, William suspects his own wife Mary (Alison Pettitt) is the one playing away.
So is Ayckbourn giving us a sordid tale of sex and lies?
“Not really, I don’t mean people jumping in and out of each other’s beds,” says John. “It deals with how people get hold of the wrong end of the stick – my character in particular does get things wrong.”
How the Other Half Loves is described by John as ‘Ayckbourn at his finest’ because behind the comic curtain lies a message about social class and human relationships.
With a career crossing the boundaries of stage, film and theatre, and with appearances in Coronation Street and The Bill, John is well-versed in telling tales of human relationships. But while he loves working on the small screen, for him size does matter.
"If you’re in somewhere like the National Theatre you have to project huge amounts, whereas on television you have to be really quiet," he says.
The actor is already used to the acoustics at The Mill at Sonning, having starred in Funny Money in January. But what keeps him coming back?
“Continuity of income,” he deadpans. “That’s not to say one isn’t thrilled to be asked, but the bottom line is I need the dosh.”
Practicalities aside, he also enjoys a chance to work on his stagecraft.
"The smaller the theatre, the better the experience for the actors and the audience.
“This space is fantastic," he says.
"It’s intimate – the audience is close, it’s very good space. What it means is that you have to be a little bit more sharp, because the audience can see you very well, so you can’t fudge anything.”
John worked with Ayckbourn’s company in Scarborough and performed nine of his plays, although this is his first go at How the Other Half Loves.
The actor is careful not to give too much away, but does tell us to watch out for that famous ‘technically difficult’ dinner scene.
“There are lots of props and props always create problems because you have to remember where they go,” he says.
“In the dinner scene you’ve got all the plates and all the food, so from that point of view it’s a nightmare. On a technical level it’s very complicated.”
Fortunately the audience won’t have to worry too much about props, they will be enjoying their dinner before the curtain call in the Mill’s restaurant. Lovely.