Ladies in Retirement,
Wheathampstead Dramatic Society,
These ladies failed to grip.
I suppose I have only myself to blame. Should have gone elsewhere, better plays, better seats, better everything. Steel Magnolias up at the Barn, Six Characters searching something at the Rep, Romeo and Juliet trolling in Toddington. Now that is class, or ought to be. But, as patient readers bereft of a blog know, I am lazy or getting that way. Too dark, too far, too cold, too loud. Any excuse to curl up with a book or an old film. But Wheathampstead? Only just down the road. Nice lot, did a bloody good Weir, The Weir to be exact. Worth every one of its four stars. Give it a whirl. Time you got out. Someone said that at another good one I missed, Pump Boys, time he got out, he’s becoming a boring old fart. Shan’t name her. Oh on second thoughts I will. Di Newman. Lovely lady and spot on right. (That’ll get her reading this post – named without performing takes skill). So I got out. Only two miles or so. Ladies in Retirement, old thriller, old Ida Lupino film. Undemanding, won’t tax me like Pirandello or Shakespeare. Old fashioned Victorian, or is it Edwardian, thriller. Just the ticket, even if these are now ten quid. So I dragged myself out, still light at eight o’clock, never knew that. And waited to be thrilled. I am still waiting.
It ought to grip. Grim companion strangling a flighty and theatrical homeowner and bricking her up in a wall so she can provide for her batty sisters is a pretty solid base for tension. Especially when a ne’er-do-well nephew sniffs out the plot and tries to turn it to his advantage. Good old fashioned drama and narrative. Done right, a nice dollop of theatrical yesteryear. Sadly you didn’t so much grip your seat with this production as slowly sink into it, ground down by Robin Langer’s flat depiction of scenes and characters who, in the main, delivered uneasy lines and little else. Little, individually or collectively, was fleshed out and all we really got was a reading without books of Edward Percy and Reginald Denham’s atmospheric thriller. Cloaked in sound effects, I will come to them later, which detracted rather than enhanced. I felt for the company and the better players. There were some of the latter and I came away wishing they had been in a better production. They won’t say so, but I reckon they might be thinking the same. Either that or why doesn’t Di Newman’s boring old fart stay on his sofa. Or go to Toddington. We’ll give him the ten quid.
Jan Westgarth was a commanding murderous companion with a rich voice resonating pleasingly on the old ears. Her diction and character impressed and it was not her fault that few of her scenes came to life. And Julie Field’s batty sister Emily, even allowing for a wig redolent of Ronnie Barker at his women’s institute choral best, was an equally strong performance laced with quirky humour. Best of all was Irene Morris, this actress rarely does anything wrong in my eyes, as the agoraphobic Louisa. She walked and talked her troubled character with consummate skill. Constantly on the edge of madness. Placed in a production with well crafted scenes of light and shade and gradually increasing tension these ladies would have shone. In a limp vehicle with wobbly wheels they merely flickered. I will say little of the rest other than that I have seen Viv Fairley (Leonora Fiske) and Bruce King (Albert Feather) both do considerably better in the past so in this case, I say charitably, something in the Thames water defeated them. It wasn’t the script, merely its interpretation. And those bloody sound effects.
I said I would come on to them and, as my wife says, I always fulfil my promise. With horses and money anyway. The piano electronically clunked before it played, the peripheral sound effects came more from the back of the hall than the stage, and thunder conveniently roared only when doors were opened. Worst of all, Edwardian carriage sounds, good as they were, never synchronised with actors moving off and on stage. Horses manfully galloped as characters came and left and one had the disconcertingly imagined vision of leaps to the door or, even worse, folks grimly hanging on as they swiftly departed. If sounds were depicted as such in the script they should have moved them a line or two. Or five. Verisimilitude is key in such dramas.
Such failures gave the feel that this was an amateurish production. And I don’t often say that of Wheathampstead Dramatic Society. And, in spite of what folks say, I prefer to be nice. Especially as these days I rarely get out. Except to Waitrose and Ladbrokes. And, possibly, Di Newman’s. Reckon she owes me ten quid. Roy Hall