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How The Other Half Loves | The Mill at Sonning Theatre

The whole theatre experience for this show is vastly different from anything I have ever experienced. Located at The Mill at Sonning Theatre, the ticket included a two-course meal at one of the most stunning locations I’ve ever seen. A converted mill plays hosts to a number of shows, and with the wooden beans and untouched floor plans, the ambience alone deserves a five star. A number of British classic mains, along with desserts are provided, adding a rather sophisticated touch to this reviewer’s day. Whilst a hearty meal and wine before a matinee show might not always be the best idea, the audience were much more relaxed and ready to enjoy the show.

The story is humorous and cleverly written (Alan Ayckbourn), revolving around three different couples, a secret affair between two of them, and a series of misunderstandings to uncover the culprits. Overall, it’s a more simple drama, which fits in with the warm environment, but the writing and staging elevates the show to being one of the most intelligent pieces of theatre. There are brilliant twists every few minutes, and this both engages and excites the audience. It aims to be a pleasant and entertaining show, and it absolutely delivers.

Adding to the interwoven storylines, the staging of the play, quite literally, brings together two separate homes, blending it all into one room. Michael Holt has cleverly designed the set to help the audience differentiate the two separate living rooms. By using different wallpapers, general level of cleanliness and slightly more modern furnishings, this also plays into the characteristics of the two couples - The Fosters (elegant furniture and subtle white trimmings) and The Phillips (constantly messy with more colourful wallpaper. Set in the 1970s, the furniture is minimal, the telephones are rotary, the radio plays in the background and there are lack of other gadgets which is nice to see.

The staging is done so well and really elevates the confusions of the character. The actors ability to continue in their own storyline without being distracted by another parallel storyline deserves its own appreciation, and it is really impressive to watch. The dialogues also occasionally compliment each other, thanks to the direction of Robin Hereford. I had been told about this incredible staging before watching the show, which made it easier to follow from the beginning. However, the play does establish this quite quickly, with the flurry of movement from the actors exiting and re-entering the stage, and through dialogue. The constant movement in the first five to ten minutes does become a lot, but thankfully this reduces and stops over time.

The only downside to the otherwise fantastic production, is the transition between scenes. The six cast members understandably spend this time getting changed and ready for the next scene, so it falls to the crew members to help set the next scene. The cast members are incredibly uncomfortable to be on stage, and despite wearing black with dimmer lights, we can still see them very clearly.

The show leaves the audience with no distractions, and a rather peppy tune in the background and we are left to entertain ourselves. I do acknowledge that it’s a tough job, but perhaps having some form of distraction on the side would help. It’s unfortunately a rather jarring way of bring the audience out of the moment and it takes a few moments to get back into the play when it does start again.

The six cast members are incredibly talented. Ruth Gibson’s portrayal of Teresa (Terry) Phillips as a tired, frustrated, intelligent young woman, with some of the show’s sharpest lines, adds an edge to the show. However it is Stuart Fox (Mr. Foster) and Emily Pithon (Mary Featherstone), who are the show’s stand out performers.

Mr Frank Foster is at the heart of the show. With a rather forgiving and loving heart, it’s his well intentioned involvement that brings the conflict within the show, and his continued efforts that lead to the string of miscommunications. His forgetfulness, tendency to ramble, and obviousness to subtext makes for some of the show’s more subtle moments of humour.

Mary Featherstone starts as a rather relatable character, who meekly tries to please people, whilst hating being in the situation that she is in. When her husband insists that she drinks the offered sherry, her interrupting hiccups continue for a while, receiving increasingly loud bursts of laughter from the audience. Unknowingly stuck in the middle of everyone else’s drama, Mary plays off of the other characters brilliantly, and is just such a funny character.

The first act ends with a brilliantly choreographed and perfectly executed dinner. Much like the mixing of two living rooms to form a larger one; we see two separate dinners happening simultaneously, with the Featherstones being the only common factor. The two characters make their debut in this scene, and they immediately shine and complete this riot of a show. The Featherstones, Phillips and Fosters are all sat at one table, yet the audience know that there is only ever four sat at the table at any given time. A culmination of a lot of built up tensions burst at the dinners, particularly in the Phillips household. This leads to a rather dramatic, yet stimulating physical fight between two of the characters, with the unexpected use of physical comedy.

Whilst this plays out in the Phillips household, we are subjected to a particularly boring lecture that Mr. Foster drones on about, helping us differentiate between the two. With every other line being at a different table, this is such an incredibly done scene, and one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen.

The second act weaves together every possible loose thread, forming a rather chaotic storyline that surpasses the first act, and it’s even more fun to watch. Relying more on the script’s dialogue rather than staging, the characters have more opportunity to grow here. This leads to a particularly powerful and more serious moment, wherein timid and gentle Mary Featherstone calls out her husband for how he mistreats her. The rest of the characters back her up, and it’s satisfying to see Mr. Featherstone having to apologise.

The show set itself up to a rather high standard in act one, and manages to consistently get better. How The Other Half Loves runs at The Mill at Sonning Theatre until the 23rd September. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | Photography by Andreas Lambis


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