Actors thrill with their display of subtle humour
Published at 09:10, Monday, 14 May 2012
LADIES in Retirement is my kind of play – easy to follow, with a small cast, and a gripping plot that’s rich in tension, balanced by a healthy dollop of humour.
Clearly, Wylam Amateur Dramatic Society has a fondness for it too, as last week they tackled it for the third time in 50 years.
Alas, I wasn’t born by 1962 to catch it first time round, and, being nine years old in 1990, was not yet a publishable critic.
However, if the comments of fellow audience members at the Wylam Institute last Thursday night were anything to go by, it seems the local talent has shown no sign of waning.
The play, a thriller directed by Stan Smith and Angus Palmer, is set in the home of Leonora Fiske, a kindly, if flawed, old dear played sympathetically by Robin Piette.
Also living there is Ellen Creed (Sue Nicholson), who Leonora saved from destitution after her fortunes took a turn for the worse.
Unfortunately, Ellen’s two sisters, Louisa (Pat Buckle) and Emily (Sylvia Lumley), lack her sophistication, and when they outstay their welcome at the house, Leonora is understandably vexed.
Still, Ellen can’t bear to throw them out and so hatches a plan to ensure their wellbeing.
Unfortunately, it involves the murder of her big-hearted friend.
On the face of it, Ladies in Retirement sounds absurd, a farcical depiction of neurotic old ladies.
In reality, though, it’s a subtly drawn and morally complex piece of work that was beautifully portrayed by the Wylam actors.
Nicholson, in particular, did an incredible job of gaining and maintaining the audience’s sympathy, despite her character’s abominable act.
Guilt – not the easiest emotion to display on stage – became etched in her every expression and movement, turning to terror with any mention, jokey or not, of the afterlife.
Richard Roberts was also stunning as her tormentor, the cocky Cockney Albert Feather, who seems to have some kind of moral compass – even if it’s slightly off-kilter.
Albert, in essence, is a loveable rogue, and Roberts proved the expert flirt in his cheeky encounters with housemaid Lucy Gilham (Catherine Gardiner), who, in a disturbing twist, joins him in his quest to make the most of Ellen’s mental breakdown.
Speaking of mental... the two sisters were perfect – deeply annoying as house-guests, but possessed with an innocence that makes Ellen’s insistence on helping them all the more understandable.
Buckle, who has appeared in all three productions over the years, did well to show the girlish weakness of the character, as she burst into giggles over Albert’s banter, while Lumley gave the perfect portrayal of a dangerously curious and gossip-prone mind.
Indeed, we had to rely on her descriptions to picture the nearby Thames estuary, but a convincing set, designed by Sue Hall and other members of the company, certainly made it believable.
Costumes and props by Cicely Chetwood were also top notch, suggesting not only the era but the stark distinction between social classes.
The only member of the society I wish had done a little less was the prompt, Liz McGlashan. It’s a minor point in such an accomplished production, but too many forgotten lines occasionally spoiled the flow.
Published by http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk