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Actress Liza Goddard and Robert Powell star in Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

She’s been acting for more than 50 years, but Liza Goddard’s still nervous at the prospect of playwright Alan Ayckbourn showing up in the audience as she stars in his play in Kent.

How would you sum up your character in Relatively Speaking?

Sheila is a lovely, kind woman who is also a little bit sad. She and her husband Philip don’t have children and she’s left at home all week while he’s up in town. She tries to make a lovely home for him, but there’s a slight suspicion he might be up to something with someone else. He doesn’t seem to want to take her with him when he goes on business trips.

Robert Powell and Liza Goddard in Relatively Speaking
Robert Powell and Liza Goddard in Relatively Speaking

What do you relish most about playing her?

What’s lovely about Sheila and Greg – who is at their home with his girlfriend Ginny and mistakes Philip and Sheila for her parents – is that they’re the two innocents in the story. At times it’s like she has just fallen down the rabbit hole into Wonderland because things are not making any sense whatsoever, but she just carries on gamely: “Yes, stay for lunch, lovely”. They never really say who they are, so she thinks “They must have turned up here for some reason”.

Is there anything of you in the character?

Of course. That’s all you’ve got – your physicality and yourself. But the thing about Alan Ayckbourn is it’s all there in the lines, so the trick is learning them. As for being like Sheila, I like to cook, make things nice for people, entertain them and feed them.

Liza Goddard in Relatively Speaking. Picture: Nobby Clark
Liza Goddard in Relatively Speaking. Picture: Nobby Clark

You and Robert Powell, who plays Philip, have worked together many times, haven’t you?

It’s that thing of working with someone you’ve known a very long time. You feel safe with them on stage because you’re on the same wavelength, you work in a similar way and you understand what each other is talking about. Also at our great age we know who each other is talking about.

The play was Alan Ayckbourn’s first national hit in 1967. Can you recall when you first encountered it?

I’ve never seen it, I’ve only read it before. But the funny thing is he used the first page of the play in Life of Riley, where the characters of Kathryn and her husband are in the garden rehearsing an amateur production. He never says it’s from Relatively Speaking, but they start with that first page and they do it very badly. That’s when I first came across it and I’ve always wanted to do it because I think it’s a wonderful play. The mix-up of people not understanding what other people are talking about is just genius.

You’ve worked with Alan many times. What do you most enjoy about the collaboration?

I’ve been very fortunate. He’s just the best director in the entire universe and you just want to please him. He’s amazing to work with and all you want to do is get it right for him. He’s not directly involved in this production, but he may come and see it and if he does I’ll be terrified. I’d rather not know he’s in the audience.

What do you feel sets him apart as a playwright?

It’s extraordinary that people don’t rate him as highly as they should do, maybe because he’s so prolific or maybe because he’s always lived in Scarborough. I often feel that if he lived in London he’d be feted more than he is. He’s written something like 80 plays and the thing about them is that mostly they’re tragedies that happen to be funny. And in fact I think they’re all serious plays that happen to get laughs. We were rehearsing one of his new ones and I said “I don’t think they’re going to laugh at this at all”. He just looked at me rather kindly, as if I was a slightly idiotic child. I said “It’s really sad and these people are having a horrible time”, but then of course the audience falls on the floor laughing.

The cast of Relatively Speaking, coming to the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury Picture: Nobby Clark
The cast of Relatively Speaking, coming to the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury Picture: Nobby Clark

How tricky is it to get farce right on stage?

It’s very hard. I was very fortunate to do No Sex Please, We’re British with David Jason and he’s one of the most marvellous farceurs. It’s wonderful to learn from people like that how to do it. We’re all still learning, all the time, although Relatively Speaking isn’t really such a farce as it is high comedy. We haven’t got a lot of physical gags. For me farce always involves physical comedy as well.

Do you have any pre or post-show routines?

Actors I’ve worked with in the past used to have rather a lot of drink. I worked with Jimmy Edwards, bless him, and you’d come in and say “Hello Jimmy, how are you?” and he’d reply “I’m completely p****d!”. I’d reply “Marvellous, see you on stage!”. But, being teetotal, my pre-show routine is to have a cup of tea and maybe a Jakemans throat sweet or even half of one. Then after a show I like going to the pub with everyone and enjoying the craic with people talking about the show, especially with Robert Powell, who is very entertaining. I’ll have a lime and soda or maybe just water.


Actress Liza Goddard’s career started back in the 1960s and she is well remembered for her role as Clarissa ‘Clancy’ Merrick in Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and later the 1972 film Ooh… You Are Awful, starring Dick Emery. She is also known for her marriages to pop star Alvin Stardust and Colin Baker, Doctor Who in the 1980s.

She plays Sheila in Alan Ayckbourn’s farce Relatively Speaking, alongside veteran Robert Powell. The play, which promises plenty of laughs, was first performed in 1967 and tells the story of sexually inexperienced Greg, who only met Ginny a month ago but has already made up his mind that she’s the girl for him. When she tells him that she’s going to visit her parents, he decides this is the moment to ask her father for his daughter’s hand. Discovering a scribbled address, he heads to Buckinghamshire, where he finds Philip and Sheila. The only thing is – they’re not Ginny’s parents and? Phillip is Ginny’s lover.


Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking will be at The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury from Tuesday, September 27, to Saturday, October 1. For tickets from £19.50 call 01227 787787 or visit marlowetheatre.com

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