Home truths amid the snow

Facing the truth: Stuart McGugan as the Rev Martin Gregory with Corrinne Wicks as his daughter Margaret

The Holly and The Ivy

Lichfield Garrick

****

WE can all see obvious problems in being the son of a preacher man, or in this case son and daughters of the village vicar.

Transgressions by offspring can reflect badly on God’s district office in the shape of the parish priest attempting to lead his flock along the paths of righteousness.

Add to that theological tension that mix of festivities and hostilities we call Christmas and you have the setting for Wynyard Browne’s 1950 play set in a Norfolk vicarage in 1947, which as some will remember, was one of the coldest and snowiest winters in the past hundred years or so.

We first meet daughter Jenny played with a demure matter of factness by Charlotte Hunter.

Despite the amorous attentions of dour, down to earth Scottish engineer David Patterson, who wants to marry her and take her with him to South America where he has a five-year contract, she seems resigned to a life of likely spinsterhood looking after her aging father.

David is played by Tom Butcher, remembered as Pc Steve Loxton in The Bill, who gives us a no nonsense character with an excellent and consistent Scottish accent, which unlike the weather outside the window, never drifted.

Jenny’s father is the vicar, the Rev Martin Gregory, played with reverential ease as the everyman vicar by Stuart McGugan. Martin, it transpires, has been perhaps more attuned to the needs of his parishioners than of his own children. A good man but has he been a good father?

This comes to a head when son Michael, played with a nice, jaunty air by Dean Smith, wangles a 48 hour pass from the army, and after arriving unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, then returns after an evening out with sister Margaret with both tired and emotional . . . as newts.

He might have been a bit wobbly on his feet but his declaration that no one could ever tell his angry father the truth was straight to the point and was the catalyst for a soul searching fest  come Christmas Day.

Margaret with her sister's boyfriend David, played by Tom Butcher

Fashion writer Margaret is played with suitable neurosis by Corrinne Wicks who seems to be a selfish, aloof, uncaring alcoholic when she arrives but we start to warm to her as bit by bit we discover the tragedy of her life. A tragedy she has felt unable to share with her man of God father.

Their dialogue about the meaning of life and all that, the crux of the play is perhaps a little too long and theological for modern audiences and perhaps 63 years ago might had had more relevance; it seems a little dated these days as if it should be said in rather clipped, upper-class tones in soft focus black and white.

But then again this is a period piece and director Michael Lunney and his Middle Ground Theatre Company have managed to give the whole piece from scenery, to dress and suitcases, the feel of 1947 so we cannot really complain when a theological discussion is in keeping with the times.

Helping to give the family Christmas air we have the aunts, with first sweet, understanding Lydia, played by the vastly experienced Hildegard Neil and then grumpy old woman par excellence Bridget, an Irishwoman who dislikes just about every living, dead, animate or inanimate object on the planet. In the hands of Sally Saunders she is a delightful comic relief as part of a ladies of mature years double act. Then for added amusement there is cousin Richard, the retired Colonel and godfather of Margaret, played in suitable military manner by Alan Leith.

Like most of Middle Ground’s productions, their Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune is still a favourite, this is a solid production, well acted with substantial sets and designs that look the part.

Despite being 63 years old, apart from perhaps the heart to heart between father and daughter, it has stood the test of time well with a decent storyline and believable characters with interesting narratives - even the colonel has a secret to tell. And that is what good theatre is all about. To 18-01-14

Roger Clarke

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