by Eric Chappell
Director: Val Middleton-Egan
What a super play to end this season on! It is a play that has many facets to it. There is a sense that it has a feel of a “Who dunnit”. It also has a message about modern society and the manner in which some of the elderly are treated. While not advertised as a comedy, it certainly has the scope to be funny by the manner in which the script is written. In the hands of capable actors, who are experienced in delivering comedy, it certainly can be, but more of that later.
Firstly, can I congratulate Val Middleton-Egan, Lee McGregor and the Set Crew on creating a great functional space for the action to take place. It was simple, spacious yet effective, not cluttered with furniture thus giving ample space for the actors to move around – especially when a wheelchair had to be used.
Also, David Oliver, on sound, set the tone for this work by playing a tune before, and as, the curtain opened. Those of us of a certain age can remember the music that began 1970s sitcoms just prior to the start of each episode. During one scene change there was a pre-recorded sequence between two characters to cover the waiting time. This kept us all attuned to the plot.
The lighting, by David Burns and Peter Thorburn, was simple yet effective. The nice touch of having the bedside lights on to cast some shadow indicated that it was evening and time for bed.
The play centres around the lives of elderly Emily Baines and May Brewer who share a room in a retirement home. Emily’s roommate, Bella died not long ago. The question here is, was she murdered? Bella’s sapphire ring disappears and turns up again. Emily cannot remember enough about her past to stop the finger of suspicion pointing at her, but she has theories of her own, and shares them with her flatmate, and Alan, her son, who visits although only out of begrudged loyalty as his siblings have moved further afield.
There have been many great comedy duos in the past: usually one a feeder of lines and the other to deliver the punchline, and here was another couple. Barbara Harris was the cantankerous and iron-willed Emily, while Margaret Williams was the more placid and trusting, May. The bulk of the dialogue was between these two characters whose early mistrust of each other gradually changes into friendship. It was very obvious that these two actors knew each other well and, I would guess, they have shared a stage together before. Both were very disciplined in their dialogue delivery and let each other have space and time in which to deliver their lines. This meant that the comedy could be delivered and understood by the audience. It was notable that their experience was such that they did not rush straight into the next line but gave the audience enough time to finish laughing before carrying on.
Both interpreted their dialogue through action and facial expressions, from placid May to stubborn Emily. The director, Val Middleton-Egan must have enjoyed working with these two actors a great deal. Not only did they bring a wealth of experience with them from acting, and life in general, but also an ability to portray a range of emotions that the two characters go through. Yes, there is the comedy within this play, but there is also the sense of loneliness and rejection by their families.
Matthew King, also put in a good performance as Alan Baines, the son of Emily. He had to sympathise with others, and indicate how difficult his mother can be: how exasperated she makes him and yet, as a son, he needed to be tolerant of her. I especially liked the character he had created; the shirt collar open with the loose tie, giving the impression of a man who had been at work all day, and was visiting out his mother out of a sense of duty rather than affection.
Megan Thorburn, as Sally, a young care worker who is due to get married and is saving up for her wedding, gave the audience a number of clues, or rather, red herrings, to think about. Megan brought a sense of menace to the play leaving us all to wonder, “would she be the one to send Emily the same way as Bella?” Megan’s delivery was good and strong yet with subtle changes within the character.
If this had been a pantomime, Jo Moor, as the administrator of the home, would have been booed by the end. Her persona was of a polite, meek and caring person but underneath that public face a calculating and thoroughly horrible person who, at times, could be seen “dripping with jewellery of the dead.”
At the end of the play, all the red herrings were explained: the evil culprit was arrested and life returned to a normal rhythm again.
I should like to thank the society for their hospitality during this season, and I look forward to seeing you in September as we start all over again.