Relative Values is one of Coward’s later plays and is a reflection of Britain’s changing society as it came out of post-war austerity into the modern era. The premise of this comedy of manners is simple – take an aristocratic family, the Marshwoods, living in a large house filled with servants, introduce a Hollywood actress intending to marry into it, and watch the sparks fly!
Coward’s play is light-hearted, satirical and bursting with witty one-liners and observations about the rigidity of the English class system.
In Relative Values Coward suggests if maintaining the status quo, knowing your place, might not be the best thing for everyone. While some of his snobbish values and views about social inferiority seem out-of-date today, some of his observations are still spot on:
‘You don’t have to be conservative to vote Conservative, you just plump for the lesser of two evils.’
‘Like so many of the young people today, he holds very definite views on social equality. He feels that all menial tasks should be done by somebody else.’