Of/niet entertaining and clever

A pair of men’s slippers, size 45, under the couple’s bed, when the man takes a size 42 at the most. Clearly this sparks problems in and around the conjugal bed. The English playwright Alan Ayckbourn describes these problems in masterly fashion in his play Relatively Speaking, better known in Dutch as Slippers .

The Flemish theatre group STAN now performs the play in a production entitled of/niet in which Ayckbourn’s marriage comedy is combined with Harold Pinter’s Party Time .

Dramatically speaking this is an obvious combination: Pinter and Ayckbourn are hard to match when it comes to analysing the hypocrisy of the (English) middle-classes. What is more, both Party Time and Relatively Speaking are about appearances.

In the hideous Party Time war is raging outside while inside a small, élite party carries on regardless. The men are members of a club, the women engage in effortless conversation. The group appears to have turned its back on the brutal reality and speaks in seemingly disconnected sentences behind which lies Pinter’s venom.

With Party Time , which takes the form of a comedy of relationships, Pinter wrote a ruthlessly harsh and politically charged play, here the prelude for the delightful Ayckbourn comedy which STAN gets its teeth into with obvious relish.

STAN’s regular group of actors – Damiaan De Schrijver, Frank Vercruyssen, Jolente De Keersmaeker and Sara De Roo – perform this comedy with a highly entertaining and clever mix of seriousness and irony. Comedy at a high level, perfectly poised between technical skill and a huge wink.

Anecdotally-speaking there is no more to the play than mutual infidelity and mistaken identity. But Ayckbourn’s dialogues are outstanding and though Relatively Speaking has been performed countless times, in this new production it seems strikingly fresh and contemporary.

STAN performs the play in a bare auditorium with brick walls and strip lighting, which gives these smug characters a slightly sinister air.

Behave as if nothing’s the matter, and however dangerous that may be, it is shown in an unscrupulous light in of/niet .

de Volkskrant, Hein Janssen, May 6th 2006