A warm, rich gold blend

On Golden Pond

Lichfield Garrick

*****

IF YOU want quality you need to wait. You also need the time, experience and skill to make anything the best it can be. On practically every level this production of On Golden Pond is just that. Quality, the best it can be.  

Written by out of work actor Ernest Thompson, On Golden Pond first came to life in 1978. Since then this poignant tale of a summer vacation with Ethel and Norman Thayer, in the latter part of their lives, has found global acclaim.

The film version in 1981, which most people are familiar with, collected a trio of Oscars but for effect, added several longer dramatic scenes.

What was lost in that migration was the gentle, clever and often biting comedy that offsets the darker reflections of the Thayer families past.  Director Michael Lunney has skilfully resurrected these and this makes for a far more realistic and engaging take on these summer months down by the lake.

Richard Johnson plays the lead role of Norman.  Johnson has played alongside and been associated with some of the leading names of Hollywood throughout the years. He has also been an integral part of the British theatre since the 1950s.

Stunning performances from Richard Johnson and Stefanie Powers creating stage chemistry as Norman and Ethel

Considering these facts, it's a mystery why he is not more of a revered household name as here is all the experience and skill you could want in an actor. Johnsons Norman is a wily old dog that amuses himself at the expense of others but is never truly malicious.

It's a subtle understated performance that genuinely leaves you concerned for him when in the final moments, the troublesome life, that he so often bemoans, seems to be about to leave him.

Ethel Thayer, played by Stephanie Powers, knows him for what he is. `”Norman you are sweetest man in the world but I am the only one who knows it” she tells him.

Powers is completely convincing and it's wonderful to see her deliver such a genuine heartfelt character in the flesh rather than the glossy TV characters she is more recognised for.

 The fact that both Powers and Johnson are playing characters of their approximate real age, slightly younger in Johnson's case, makes the relationship between this pairing ever the more endearing and real.

Although characters come and go, most of the play is a clever combination of ever changing duologues. Amongst them is daughter Chelsea (Elizabeth Carling) and her Mother confronting her troubled childhood  and boyfriend Bill Ray's (Tom Roberts) awkward interchange with Norman on the issue of unmarried sex.

 Father and son. Tom Roberts as boyfriend Bill and  son Billy, played by Graeme Dalling

 Throughout and in each case the performances are crafted and beautifully timed as the story draws you in deeper with the surface rippled just enough to keep the tension flowing.

Whilst the film version may have elevated this play to international success it is a pleasant surprise at how much more satisfying it is to see it on the stage. It is a realistic and moving tale and with the ingredients of this talented cast, Middle Ground Theatre Company has created a gold blend down on Golden Pond. 

Quality may take time to create but with this highly successful six month UK tour now drawing to a close, I wouldn't wait around much longer to go see it.

Jeff Grant

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