A PACEY performance of an Ayckbourn classic keeps its audience entertained and laughing despite mixed performances at the Theatre Royal.

In the main, How The Other Half Loves wears its 50 years lightly. 

The wallpaper (loud), dinner party menus (avocado heavy) and furniture (ghastly) leave the audience in no doubt of its 1960s vintage. 

And light-hearted references to both drink-driving and spousal abuse – “at least if you hit me it would show you cared” – are rightly jarring to 2017 ears.

But the core themes of social awkwardness and hidden infidelity are still fresh, as is the comedy delivered by a well-drilled and physically adept cast.

Robert Daws and Caroline Langrishe are delightfully blimpish and sexy respectively as the Fosters, and both have superb comic timing. 

Daws’ stuttering and affronted pomposity climaxes with a “no-no-no-no-no” which hits a dozen repetitions before he draws breath. And Langrishe’s arch and drawling delivery is his perfect foil, leaving him the loser of exchange after exchange.

Meanwhile the rather rougher Bob and Teresa Phillips, as played by Leon Ockenden and Charlie Brooks (EastEnders’ Janine Butcher), were suitably rambunctious but couldn’t reach quite the heights of nuance of their classier friends.

The punchy and insightful script though, alongside vigorous direction, keeps the performance lively and engaging. 

The first act’s extraordinary device of setting two dinner parties on consecutive nights, with overlapping participants, in a single scene is tricky stuff. But what might have been confusing or stilted handled less skilfully was crisp and funny with tension just where it was needed.

And if play’s characters perhaps learn uncomfortable facts but not valuable lessons, the audience at least comes away with a little more insight into love, regret, and the perils of jumping to conclusions.

Joel Adams