Emotional tale of faded youth

Ladies in Lavender

Malvern Festival Theatre

*****

BASED on the short story by William J Locke, which was made into a film in 2004 starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, Ladies in Lavender is set in 1930's Cornwall.

Two spinster sisters find a young man washed up on the beach near their house and bring him home to nurse him back to health.

The sisters, Ursula and Janet Widdington are played by Hayley Mills and Belinda Lang who have an impressive portfolio of film, theatre and TV work behind them.

 The women have lived an increasingly quiet and sheltered existence but the arrival of the Polish violin-playing refugee brings excitement and meaning to their humdrum lives, and Ursula in particular finds herself drawn to the stranger.  

Despite the age difference we watch as she falls in love with him and it is evident that she regrets the lack of romance in her younger days. Hayley Mills is marvellous in the part and her unrequited adoration of the boy is both touching and unsettling.

Belinda Lang is equally brilliant as the more sensible sister who, nevertheless, wants to keep the boy at their home, and prevent a mysterious woman who has spotted his musical talent ‘stealing' him away to London to make his name as a musician.

Tension arises between the two sisters: Janet recalling the lost love of her youth, Peter, who died in the Great War, and Ursula somewhat curious and jealous at never having had a romantic relationship of her own.

Observing all this is their housekeeper Dorcas (Carol Macready, who was nominated as best Supporting Actress for her role in Enjoy in the West End). Macready is perfectly cast as a salt- of- the- earth Cornish woman who sees the sisters' dull world turned upside down. She adds humour to the piece with her pithy put downs to all and sundry.

Liz Ascroft  has designed  a marvellous set, allowing us scenes both upstairs  and downstairs in the cottage, in the garden, and down on the beach.

The second half of the play is particularly touching.  Indeed Hayley Mills was in tears in the final scene. Superb acting from Lang and Mills and a genuinely moving play.  At Malvern to 26-05-12

Clare Trow 

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