by Bill Naughton

directed by John Cummings

Burnley Garrick


Born into relative poverty in County Mayo, Bill Naughton moved to Bolton in 1914 as a child. There he attended Saint Peter and Paul's School, and worked as a weaver, coal-bagger and lorry-driver before he started writing.


Although best remembered for his play, ‘Alfie’, mostly because of the British film starring Michael Caine in the eponymous role, Naughton was a prolific writer of plays, novels, short stories and children's books. His preferred environment was the working-class society, which is reflected in much of his writ-ten work.


In addition to ‘Alfie’, at least two of his other plays have been made into feature films. These are ‘Spring and Port Wine’, which had James Mason starring, and ‘All in Good Time’, filmed as ‘The Family Way’, which starred John Mills, his daughter Hayley and Hywel Bennett.


The play opens with the wedding night celebrations of young Violet Piper to cinema projectionist, Arthur Fitton. A rowdy reception is held in the home of the groom’s parents in the town of Bolton. Arthur's father, Ezra, leads the entertainment with dancing and drunken singing with party guests in the living room. Arthur clashes with Ezra, a lifelong gasworks labourer, who doesn't understand his son's enjoyment of reading and classical music. After a strained evening, where Ezra goads Arthur into an arm-wrestling match, he defeats and embarrasses him in front of the assembled company and his new bride. The newlyweds finally retire, only for their marital bed to collapse as the result of a practical joke played by Arthur's boorish boss, Joe Thompson. Violet laughs at the situation, but Arthur imagines she is laughing at him and then is not able to consummate their marriage.


Unable to obtain a home of their own, Violet and Arthur continue living in the crowded Fitton house with Arthur's parents and adult brother, Geoffrey. The thin walls and lack of privacy exacerbate Arthur's discomfort.


As days pass into weeks, the marriage remains unconsummated, and the strain between the couple steadily worsens.


Eventually, Violet confides in her mother, resulting in Violet's parents visit Arthur's parents to tell them. Lucy Fitton reminisces to the Pipers how Ezra took Billy, his close male friend since childhood, along on their honeymoon and spent more of his time with Billy than with her.


Violet is urged by her Mother to confide in her Uncle Fred, a physiotherapist and rabbit breeder. His homespun analogy to breeding rabbits indicates that Arthur's problem would likely be resolved if she and Arthur lived in their own home instead of in Arthur's father's house.


Arthur and Violet’s problem soon becomes an open secret, and flashpoints inevitably occur between Arthur and his sleazy employer, Joe Thompson, and between Arthur and Violet, with surprising consequences.


The play resonates with good old Lancashire comedy, familial confrontation, poignancy, and pathos.


Playing the plain-spoken and artless Ezra Fitton, gasworks labourer and father of the groom, Stephen Dixon brings just the right blend of bluster, inherent strength of character, and ingenuousness to the part. His difference in attitude to each of his sons, marks his status within his own household. His continual confrontations with his older son, Arthur, is tinged with the hint of a need to reach out to him and show the love that he really feels. The exchanges with his long-suffering wife, Lucy, provide delightful moments of domestic comedy, maybe a little familiar with many in the audience.


In Lucy Fitton, the groom’s Mother, Naughton crafted a character of real strength and worldly wisdom. Susan Mullen, using her not insignificant talent and perception fleshes out the role of the indomitable matriarch of the family. She lets us sense that there is something deeper than the usual mother/son relationship towards Arthur. There is a need to protect the lad, to ensure that he doesn’t become the man his father would wish him to be.


The mother of the bride, Liz Piper, is a woman with a hint of disappointment at what the world has handed her. Although caring and concerned for her daughter, she has come to resent, with some jealousy, the strong father/daughter bond between her husband Leslie and daughter Violet. Lynne Cummings cap-tured all these feelings and exploited them, much to our delight. Whenever I have seen Lynne play, she always brings life and believability to every role. It must be said of both Lynne and Susan that, I am sure, they brought something of their own mothers to the stage.


Leslie Piper, the bride’s father has shown deference to his wife throughout their marriage, although his real love is given to his beloved daughter, Violet. He is aware that Liz, his wife, has tried to weaken the bond, and in a moment of truth, he reproaches her. Being the gentle man he is, however, he accepts her tearful admission. For me, David Pilkington, playing Leslie, is a director’s dream. Give him the part, tell him what you need from it, and, boy, will he de-liver. In this role he gives us the undying love for his Violet. His remembrance of his Violet’s beautiful plaits being shorn off to be replaced by a frizzy perm, all at Liz’s instigation, was a moment of sheer poignancy, of which there are many in this play.


Now we come to the central characters in this play, Arthur and his lovely bride, Violet, played by Matthew Dickinson and Ellie Humberstone. You cannot tell that, between them, these young actors have only played only as much straight drama as you can count on one hand.


Matt lets us see the frustrations and anguish that torments him for most of the play. Criticized by an over-bearing father, trapped in a job as a cinema projec-tionist, for a man he despises and unable to produce the ultimate seal on his love for Violet. He was driven to distraction and violence. A characterisation portrayed with profound feeling.


And as a perfect foil, the pure and innocent Violet, a product of the not-so-permissive society has been brought up to respect the chastity of a new bride. Violet has kept Arthur’s advances at bay until the wedding night, or in her words, “We wouldn’t have been able to have a white wedding.” Arthur’s reply “We’ll be able to have another in twelve months; the way things are going on.” Ellie brings just the right amount of naivety and ingenuousness to the character. In both bride and groom, we are allowed to see the true depth of the love between them. Well done, Matt and Ellie.


Liz Rowell and Simon Bailey added colour to the action in a not-so-happy marriage partnership of Molly and Joe Thompson, Arthur’s cinema owning boss.


Leighton Hunt, as Arthur’s brother Geoff, and Wayne Brankin, as Arthur’s male and co-worker, add wonderfully to the overall feel of the play.


Violet’s Uncle Fred is played by Alan Hargreaves, with the right level of concern and common sense.


The stage set is minimal with split level playing areas. On display was a wonderful monochrome back-drop of Bolton, lit with good effect picking out the intimacy of certain scenes. Excellent sound effects bring reality to the action. One in particular had a certain ring to it and was sure to bring a sprinkling of laughter from the audience.


John Cummings had worked his cast well, to highlight the differences between the various couples and to ensure that each player contributed something to this wonderful comedy.