Festive fare with a twist

The Holly and the Ivy

Lichfield Garrick

***

THIS Wynyard Browne play about a vicar who puts his parish before his children was first staged in 1950 but is probably best remembered for the 1952 film with Ralph Richardson as the clergyman and Margaret Leighton and Celia Johnson as his two daughters, Margaret and Jenny.

Set at Christmas, 1947 the play has nostalgic warmth with its old fashioned phrasing and attitudes although it does feel a little strange to be watching a festive play at the end of January. Is it late or early? Who knows? It is the difficulty of a play with a Christmas theme but, to their immense credit, this Middle Ground Theatre Company production does manage to build some festive atmosphere.

Jenny (Lindsay York-Jones) lives at home in the vicarage and wants to marry David (Tom Butcher) but won’t leave her father, the vicar, Rev Martin Gregory (Philip Madoc). Just to add a bit of urgency to proceedings David has just got a new job  which involves heading off to South America for five years in a month’s time.

As the family assemble from all corners on Christmas Eve though the differences and splits between the father and his children, the drunk Margaret (Corrine Wicks) and soldier Mick (Chris Grahamson) are slowly revealed.

What is comes down to is that age old problem that it is difficult to act naturally or be yourself socially with policemen or vicars (even journalists)  - even if it happens to be to be your dad..

Family friend  Richard (Alan Leith) tries to keep the peace which is a task made more difficult once aunts Bridget (Sally Saunders) and Lydia (Joanna Wake) put their oar in. Bridget is never happier than when she is miserable while Lydia loves to be nosy and interfere in the nicest way.

DEEP, DARK SECRET

Jenny’s wedding and trip up the Amazon or wherever depends upon her London based fashion writer sister coming back to the old family pile at least long enough to get the old boy sorted but she has a deep, dark secret (at least for 1947) that she has never been able to tell to her nearer to God than she dad.

The end, as you might expect in the early post-war years, is sentimental and a little pious with the message that common ground can be found in differences.

There is not a lot of pace in the plot but the cast of eight keeps things moving along nicely although personally I found  the plethora of accents, two Irish and a strong, heavy Aberdeen, at times distracting without adding a great deal to the story.

That being said there are some solid, strong performances in this period piece, particulalry from the put-upon Richard and slightly loopy Bridget while Philip Madoc’s Vicar finds some nice touches.

The play is not going to set theatres alight  but it nicely captures life in a country parish just after the war and is a simple tale, well told. To 30-01-10

Roger Clarke 

Home Lichfield Garrick  Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre