A little treasure of a play

On Golden Pond

Malvern Festival Theatre

*****

Ethel (Stefanie Powers) & Norman (Richard Johnson)

MIDDLE Ground's On Golden Pond is the original Ernest Thompson 1979 Broadway play which was turned into the 1981 American drama film starring Jane and Henry Fonda.

Fonda, in his final film role, and his co-star Katharine Hepburn both received Oscars, as did Thompson for his wonderful script, and there were a further seven Oscar nominations.

Jane, who bought the film rights to the play, and Henry were notoriously emotionally detached in real life and the film was instrumental in bringing the father and daughter closer together albeit it late on in Henry's life.

So what's it all about? An aging couple, Ethel and Norman Thayer, spend each summer at their home on their beloved lake Golden Pond. They are visited by their daughter Chelsea, who is somewhat estranged from her curmudgeon of a father.

Chelsea introduces them to her new fiancĂ©, Bill, and asks the Thayers to look after Bill's young son Billy while she and Bill go to Europe. 

 Billy Ray (Graeme Dalling) & Bill Ray (Tom Roberts)

Billy is not entirely impressed at being palmed off with the elderly strangers in the house on the lake.

 However he is not daunted by Norman's brusque and grumpy manner, and thus begins the dawning of a special relationship between the two over a summer of fun and new adventures on Golden Pond.  

Chelsea returns married and a little exasperated and envious of the fact that Norman has bonded with her husband's teenager in a way he never quite did with her.

This play is a little treasure! There are some absolutely fine performances in this production and a rare treat to see this class of acting, script and production together.

Richard Johnson is a master of theatrical talent bringing his own amusing if not cantankerous observations to the elderly Norman as he struggles to come to terms with facing old age, and his obsession with death.

Stephanie Powers is elegant and gracious and plays Ethel with oodles of sweetness, tolerance, love and kindness and the chemistry and timing between these two on stage is a delight to watch.   

It's full of humour and comedy, much lighter than the film, and has some wonderful one liners which are played beautifully between the two leads who portray the most believable and quite adorable couple, aging graciously together with incredible spirit.

Chelsea (Elizabeth Carling) and father Norman coming to terms with their relationship

There is a great scene between Tom Roberts who plays Bill and Richard Johnson where Norman attempts to whip up some humiliation but Bill challenges him and a battle of wills ensues. 

Liz Carling makes a good Chelsea, and Graeme Dalling plays Billy brilliantly as the cool kid who lightens the lives and injects the youth back into the elderly bones of Norman.

Michael Lunney the director of Middle Ground is precise and methodical with his direction, detailed set design, seventies costumes and music.  

This is a charming play touching on the sadness of aging, but also about companionship, loyalty, reconciliation and love. It's full of humour born from natural human experiences and relationships. It is a sentimental piece and I really think it will be a huge success at Malvern and for the rest of the tour.  I do hope so. To 11-02-12.

Johanna Brand 

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