Ladies in Lavender – Grange Players, Walsall

ladiesinlav

*****

 

Although a successful film release at the cinema in 2004, the stage adaptation is recent (2012) . This has the disadvantage that it is unfamiliar, but  the advantage that it provides a pretty blank canvas for a Director.

The plot is simple enough. Set in isolated  Cornwall a storm disrupts the home shared by two elderly sisters and their housekeeper. As the storm abates, a mysterious young man is found washed up on the beach.  They take him in to convalesce, his musical talent emerges, and a love story unfolds until he moves on. Fairly inconsequential stuff. But in the hands of Grange Players, and Director Rosemary Manjunath, the sparsely placed dots are gloriously connected, and the empty spaces filled, by a raft of fine character performances.

In coastal Cornwall, a crisis is when a decision has to be made as to whether biscuits may be taken mid-week, drama centres around whether a Vaughan Williams movement was played a little fast, and conflict resolution is effected by an extra sugar in a cup of tea. Character development is vital, and Manjunath has been skilled, and fortunate, in her choice of cast.

The stage adaptation and script is by Shaun McKenna. Good dialogue is always a premium commodity in the theatre, McKenna is a skilled practitioner. On stage he has written for Lord of the Rings and adapted work by Terry Pratchet and Henry James, on the radio his work includes Home Front, and Le Carre, and Winston Graham adaptations. It shows. Easy on the ear, amusing, entertaining and engaging, the laconic, languid soundscape is never allowed to drag, the character pieces never outstay their welcome.

 

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Photo: Alastair Barnsley

 

Set just before the outbreak of World War Two, the sceptre of Hitler, and distrust of foreigners in general, and Germans in particular, strikes a chord in post Brexit Britain that McKenna could not have anticipated, giving the script an unexpected, and not unwelcome, edge in parts.

Mary Whitehouse (Ursula) and Sandra Haynes (Janet) star as the hospitable sisters, neither of whom have been lucky in love. They bicker, and fuss, and circle their patient with sincere but awkward, enthusiasm. I recall as a teenager my octogenarian grandmother being hospitalised after a fall. A frail, slip of a woman, I was incredulous when she remarked to me that although on the outside she knew she was a decrepit wreck, on the inside she still felt as she did when she was eighteen years old. It is that sense of youth which McKenna taps into with the sisters, as he does with the elderly Dr Mead, superbly played by Paul Viles.

David Smith gives an assured performance as the shipwrecked Andrea Marowski, childlike as he recovers and learns English, before leaving to seek his fortune with equally mysterious Olga Danilov, confidently played by Leah Solmaz. Mary Whitehouse opposite Smith, and Paul Viles opposite Solmaz produce touching vignettes of cross-generational love and attraction which cannot be. Lightening the tone, Jill Simkin’s housekeeper Dorcas is a delight, always on hand to bring everyone down to earth, bake a cake, or make a cup of tea, and  with a very creditable West Country accent. The crystal- clear diction from all of the cast was much appreciated too.

A nostalgic, elegiac feel results, and is all enveloping, warm , soft and comforting, just like Ursula’s bedside storytelling of the prescient “ Little Mermaid”. The dulcet tones of the shipping forecast, the simple pleasures of listening to the radio, a good sandwich, somehow these seem to be all you need for a few hours.

Manjunath’s vision for this production has been satisfyingly realised with the help of a fine company. A sold- out house offered  well-deserved rousing applause at the final curtain, with excellent word of mouth ensuring that only a handful of tickets are available for the remaining shows to Saturday 25th March.

 

 

 

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