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

Mary, Mary is quite . . . riveting

The tension mounts in The Anniversary under the watchful eye and thumb of the vile matriarch (Mary Whitehouse)

The Anniversary

Sutton Arts Theatre, Sutton Coldfield


MAKING her first appearance here, Mary Whitehouse is Mum – the menace-filled matriarch and widow who is one of the vilest characters in theatre. It is one hell of a way to introduce yourself to a new audience.

On the other hand, Mum, packed to the eyebrows with evil intent, is no stranger to Mary, who has also played her for Walsall's Grange Playhouse – and here, she wears the character like a bespoke evening gown. This is a beautiful portrayal of a woman whose every utterance confirms her status as the rightful representative of the ugly and unpleasant side of life.

She does not swear. She is not violent, but she does have a sinister smile – and she rules her three grown-up sons with unfailing certitude. If anyone crosses her, however justified the reason, she exacts her own specialist form of revenge and watches the transgressor squirm. She is not in any circumstances to be mistaken for a pleasant person or a ray of sunshine. She smiles to sinister effect.

She gives Mary Whitehouse the opportunity of a memorable début and the result is often riveting. Her family is hapless in her hands – and it is a family brought together by director Vida Green and earning top marks in a first-class production. The occasion is the annual one, when Mum insists that the family joins her on the anniversary of her husband's death. One of them blames the house for the all-pervading anguished atmosphere.


Eldest son Henry (Richard Aucott) is the one with a secret; the one who is apt to walk at high speed with head down and small steps. Embarrassment is all-consuming. Terry (Mark Nattrass) is completely cowed. He plans to flee to Canada with Shirley, the lady in his life and the much stronger character, but his resolve is clearly crumbling in the face of Mum's insidious machinations.

Somebody points out that Mum became fond of Dad only after he had been laid out – and when Mum is delivering her eulogy in memory of her late husband, Terry's down-turned mouth is reminiscent of theatre's mask of tragedy. Here is a son who is clearly fed up to the back teeth but terrified by his own presumption in proposing to escape.

And Tom (Tomos Frater), the least inhibited of the three, has an unexpected falling-out with new girlfriend Karen – a lovely portrayal by Faye Hatch – in a spat that playwright Bill MacIlwraith has created without managing to make it ring true. Fortunately, it is resolved almost as soon as it starts. Karen is visiting the house and meeting Mum for the first time, and able to reinforce the only serious resistance to Mum that is being provided by the feisty Shirley (Aimée Hall).

The story unfolds in estuary English, full of glottal stops and double negatives, with a splendid company that has been given the set it deserves by a talented team of nine. A pleasing surprise is the curtains that open and close at the touch of a button. I don't remember seeing the effect onstage before. To 07-05-11.

John Slim 

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