It’s all relative for Christopher Marlowe in Ayckbourn’s classic

The cast of New Apollo's production of Relatively Speaking. From left: Christopher Marlowe, Francesca McCrohon, Aaron Holdaway, Angie Lily
The cast of New Apollo's production of Relatively Speaking. From left: Christopher Marlowe, Francesca McCrohon, Aaron Holdaway, Angie Lily

Near the start of his career, some 38 years ago, Christopher Marlowe starred in Alan Ayckbourn’s classic comedy, Relatively Speaking.

The play centres on the intertwined relationships – real and otherwise – between two couples, the younger pairing of Greg and Ginny and the older couple of Phillip and Sheila.

Ginny has been having an affair with the married Phillip. Ginny goes off for a day in the country, supposedly to visit her parents but actually to break things off with her older married lover, Philip. Greg decides to follow her, and on meeting Phillip assumes he is Ginny’s father...

‘I was the young man then, because I was young and now I’m the old man because I’m old!’ laughs Christopher.

‘I celebrate 40 years in the business this August and that rep job was about two years in. I played Greg for two weeks, it was fortnightly rep and I remember I had to smoke a cigar which I hated, I always had a job to light it. Thankfully that’s been cut out now.’

This time, he’s playing Phillip in New Apollo’s production at The Square Tower in Old Portsmouth. And even after all this time, Christopher has found his earlier performance bubbling up.

‘Some of it came back, and I was able to help Aaron [Holdaway], who’s playing Greg. it’s funny things like he has to get up and wrap a sheet around him a bit like a nappy and there’s a technique to that, and I sort of remembered that. Some of the dialogue is completely gone, but some of it’s still there. It’s really weird revisiting it but in another role.’

Ayckbourn is a favourite of the veteran actor.

‘I’ve done a few now, including Bedroom Farce for the old Apollo Theatre when John Offord was running it and that was fun and there’s been quite a revival of his work lately. They had Relatively Speaking at the CFT a couple of years ago, and Way Upstream with the boat onstage the year before that.

‘I love his stuff because it’s sort of farce but it isn’t. It’s funny but it’s not knockabout funny, it’s more about misunderstandings and misidentity, so you’re having a complete conversation with someone thinking they’re someone else rather than falling through doors.’

With only the four roles the play is a true ensemble piece, and as such it hinges on the chemistry of its leads.

‘I’ve got two of my regulars and a young chap who has only done one for us before, that’s Aaron, and I’m playing opposite Angie [Lily] who I’ve played opposite many times before, we love working together, and of course, the gorgeous Francesca McCrohon – there’s no ends to her talents. I actually played opposite Angie in Bedroom Farce.’

‘And of course Steve Pitt is directing, we love Steve, he’s busy with his council work,’ since May, Steve has been the cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport on Portsmouth City Council, ‘but he always finds time for the theatre!’

Relatively Speaking

The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth 

July 9-13

ticketsource.co.uk/new-apollo