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Relatively Speaking
 
15/04/2001
The Sun
RELATIVELY SPIFFING
Sherry Siebel gets a taste of Alan Ayckbourn's comedy
with a dash of Malaysian flavour

By Sherry Siebel

About time. The KLite who craves a bit of posh comedy theatre now and then need not burst a corpuscle contemplating the impoverishing prospect of dinner theatre tickets for himself and maybe even - good Lord - his entire family.

For British farce is now no longer to be exclusively showcased in grand hotel ballrooms, presented right after swooningly fantastic dinners fulsomely accompanied by copious amounts of attention, alcohol and dark chocolate.

Bona fide plebs and all their friends can now avail themselves of the welcomed industry of Gardner & Wife, and may imbibe freely of the droll witticisms, diabolical puns and wicked innuendos the British are so very good at.

Some advice, however, would not go amiss: Strenuously avert all innate tendencies toward unfair comparison to the superior and outstanding quality of British acting in general, and instead, replace these tendencies with an enjoyment of things much closer to home.

And for your own good, mentally trade foreign perfection and veteran experience for the cosy familiarity of local lingo and the novelty of recognised faces kicking up their heels doing British farce, and one could very possibly be a reasonably happy bunny.

In the recent production of Relatively Speaking at the Actors Studio Bangsar, Gardner & Wife seem to have satisfied an obvious demand for 'simple entertainment'. This is in spite of the fact that the production set the alarming precedent of imposing an insolent price hike whereby hapless non-early birds catching the end of the show's run get the privilege of paying through the nose.

The audiences readily lapped up the various machinations of farce in this confection of candy floss comedy from the great Sir Alan Ayckbourn.

The spectacle of a scandalous love triangle featuring a randy young lady ready to settle down with a clueless ang moh, and her lecherous and married ex-lover who is loathe to give up his bit on the side were just the tight kind of titillating stuff. The audience also loved that wondrous revolving thingie with an entire garden on it.

Given a helping celebrity with the inclusion of comely starlet Sofia Jane playing the randy young lady in question, this Malaysianised version of Relatively Speaking also went for broke with the importation of British actor Nick Barnes.

Known as the voice of BBC's Adrian Mole, Nick played the stereotypical new expat who insists on wearing sarongs and saying terrible things like 'Slammat paggy' and 'Lay high pin toe?' Unfortunately, they couldn't even pretend that they fancied each other. Either that, or Sofia found it hard to tear herself away from being a caricature of Marilyn Monroe in 501s as she continually engaged in poses which generally included one coquettish foot kicked up in the air.

Strangely enough, Sofia, known for being able to turn up the heat in her Malay movies, was nowhere near as libidinous as the role of Ginny required, exuding instead an air of married prissiness. And Barnes was probably illustrating the reason why he was chosen to play Mole, that fictitious teenage nerd and general loser. Still, it was fun to see a bintang filem on stage, living out an SPG's biggest fantasy (minus, of course, the love triangle crap).

And, shiver me timbers if Thakurdas Jethwani and Anne James didn't blow the pair of them away like two styrofoam mannequins. Having in the past witnessed the consummate mastery which is Ms James', it was a treat to see her take to comedy like an oiled duck to water in the role of Sheila, the dispassionate wife of the philandering Philip.

Priceless expressions conveying mute befuddlement, withering sarcasm and traitorous evil danced across her face as she gradually took the wind out of her husband's sails. Her hilariously authentic, loud Indian accent and idiosyncratic Indian gestures were a massive improvement compared to her stiff incarnation as one of the bombastic sisters in Huzir Sulaiman's Those Four Sisters Fernandez.

But there is no doubt that Thakurdas stole the show. As the dirty married feller who thinks his wife is boffing the ang moh while the ang moh thinks they're both his in-laws-to-be, Thakurdas commanded attention with complete ease. His impressive propensity at mouthing off in eloquently fruity, colloquial English, perfectly accompanied by a verbal rolodex of appropriate expletives, deserved prizes.