Kieran and Sarah

George  played by Kieran Buckeridge and Sarah Kempton as Doris, a couple with a quarter century of annual love affairs.

Same time next year

Malvern Theatres

****

Same Time, Next Year is a romantic comedy set in a guest cottage at a country inn in northern California between 1951 and 1975. It sets off at a cracking pace when George (Kieran Buckeridge) and Doris (Sarah Kempton) wake from an adulterous one-night-stand.

George, in a confusion of anxiety, embarrassment and guilt hops around the stage gathering up the clothes so hastily flung aside the previous night. Doris is rather more relaxed and pragmatic about the whole thing.

He's an accountant, and in town alone on business while Doris is meant to be on a religious retreat to escape her mother-in-law’s birthday. They have met by chance over dinner at a local restaurant.

It is a great script with some very funny lines and the couple soon start flinging gags at each other, in the style of American TV sitcoms of the 1950s and 60s. Perhaps this is to cover their nervousness, understandable in the circumstances, but the programme notes tell us that this comedy style is director Michael Cabot’s choice to reflect the playwright, Bernard Slade’s, early career writing for those shows.

However, we also need to understand the overwhelming sexual chemistry and romantic connection between Doris and George that drive the play - we are told frequently that George only has to look at Doris and he can’t take his hands off her - but these feelings seem to be taking cover as the jokes ricochet around the stage.

Scene two takes place five years later and we discover that they have agreed to meet up again every year, as the title suggests. We then catch up on their story at four and five-year intervals and learn more about their ‘real’ lives outside that bedroom.

Their respective spouses, Helen and Harry, and their children are discussed; they share happy news and family tragedies. We see how they respond to the major social and political changes of the 1960s and 70s and how their fortunes and aspirations develop.

Doris and George draw strength from their annual tryst and keep their secret love burning without any real threat to their marriages, although the guilt is never far away. In some ways it is an attractive proposition, a regular weekend break from home life with an exciting and understanding sexual partner, but there are moral considerations too and we are left wondering, as each scene ends, whether they will be able to continue in the same way.

The challenge for the actors, of course, is to age convincingly and both Sarah and Kieran manage this well, aided by the well-considered costume choices of designer Bek Palmer. The set never changes, which is a bit odd; the furniture, bed covers and ornaments are the same in 1975 as they were in 1951, despite the major upheavals in interior design fashions and colours through the years. We are told that George and Doris love returning to the same room because it never changes but is this meant to be taken so literally? Or maybe they are just so in love that it doesn’t matter.

This London Classic Theatre production is at Malvern Festival Theatre to 29-01-22 and then touring until 16-04-22.

Sue Hawkins

26-01-22 

Same Time Next Year is at Derby Theatre 08-12 March

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