Ladies in Lavender review from Hall Green Little Theatre

 

 

Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Ladies in Lavender

Hall Green Little Theatre

****

At its heart Ladies in Lavender is a love story, and a sad one at that, where love is washed up on the beach with the near drowned foreign stranger, but unlike him, it is never going to survive.

Janet and Ursula Widdington are elderly spinster sisters living an ordered life of steady routine in the family home on the Cornish coast bought by their late father.

The year is 1937 and life is simple. Friday night is concert night on the wireless, the nightly routine is taking turns to make the cocoa with the added excitement of a biscuit – but only at weekends.

Janet had a love once, Peter – we suspect he was never really a lover as they had “an understanding” – but  Peter died in the Great War and 20 years on his memory is still one she doesn’t want to share.

Ursula has had a life which romance has passed by but which is stirred by the arrival of Andrea, the young handsome stranger.

Then there is Dr Mead, called in to treat the injured, shipwrecked stranger. He still misses his late wife who didn’t like his violin playing and finds some solace in Olga, a young, attractive, foreign artist who is in Cornwall for the summer to paint.

A love lost in memory and two stirring only in old and foolish minds.

Real sisters Louise Price, as Janet, and Christine Bland as Ursual take on the roles of the two spinsters with Price giving us a very business-like, matter of fact Janet, or at least that is her exterior, underneath there seems to be a part of her protecting her sister . . . or hiding from her past.

There is a moment though when it is hard to decide whether she is betraying Andrea to protect her sister or whether she is trying to keep him for herself, reliving feelings for Peter perhaps.

As for Bland’s Ursula? She is like a teenage girl hiding all traces of her new boyfriend from her parents, sneaking off to see him, hiding what she is doing even to the point of lying – a young girl in love a lifetime too late.

And Matt Ludlam, impressive in comedy parts in the past, is equally impressive as Andrea, the Polish violinist on his way to America washed overboard in a storm off the Cornish coast. He speaks no English yet slowly, and convincingly, learns under the sisters’ tutelage.

Jant, Ursula and ANdrea

Louise Price as Janet, Christine Bland as Ursula and the object of their attentions, Matt Ludlam as Andrea. Picture: Rachel Pickard            

Rachael Louise Pickard provides the attractive painter Olga with enough accent to suggest foreign yet not so much as to be a caricature or difficult to understand not that Andrew Cooley’s Dr Mead would have minded.

The young girl reawakened feelings in him that had not been there since his wife died, perhaps even further back to when they first met.

As for Andrea . . . to him his life was saved and he is being looked after by two, kindly old ladies while he recovers - even if they think he will stay with them for ever - while Olga is well aware of the doctor’s . . . interest, but, his infatuation is harmless and, well, she is well able to look after herself.

Not that Janet and Ursula are going to let her near their precious Andrea being impolite to the point of hostile if the young rival comes near or is even mentioned.

And behind it all is Dorcas, played in bustling and, let’s be honest, a little stroppy style, by Mary Ruane. Dorcas is the housekeeper cum cook for the sisters who far from mollycoddling young Andrea thinks if he lives there he should do his bit to help, setting him to work peeling spuds or gardening.

We all know it can’t last. Olga is a visitor and will one day leave, Andrea is a young man on his way to start a new career, a journey the shipwreck only interrupted.

And so it proves. Olga, it transpires, holds the key to Andrea’s future and the pair leave without a goodbye – which seems thoughtless after all that has been done for him, but it is circumstance, a perhaps once in a lifetime chance that has to be grabbed then with no time for thank yous or goodbyes.

The sisters, and the doctor are devastated, with Ursula, and to a lesser extend Janet seeing their foolishness but a letter finally explains all and we are back to the Friday night concert on the wireless, routine is restored but this time Andrea is a part of it.

I must admit I found the 2004 film, written by Charles Dance for his directorial debut, the cinematographic equivalent of Mogadon and thankfully Shaun McKenna’s 2012 stage adaptation has improved on that to provide a gentle, slow moving observation of love and perhaps the foolishness of old age.

It is not the easiest to stage requiring a set which provides a sitting room, garden, bedroom and, to top it all, a beach which director Jean Wilde managed by dividing the stage into quarters separated by Paul Hartop’s lighting design.

It was a setting which worked well apart from one moment when the doctor, supposedly unnoticed, spies Olga and Andrea together on the beach, yet it is in a space so small the trio are almost tripping over each other.

And while we are on a moan, the radio in the opening scene could be louder. It was hardly audible at the back.

These are minor niggles though which hardly detract from what is a solid, well-staged and acted production of this gentle tale. To 27-05-17

Roger Clarke

20-05-17 

The film, and subsequent play, were all based on a short story with the same name from 1919 by British novelist and playwright William J Locke. The story can be read HERE

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