Association of Community Theatre
Show Reviews 2017
WOMAN IN A DRESSING GOWN
by Ted Willis
Altrincham Little Theatre
This is the first time in my wanderings that I have come across a play by Ted Willis. I had heard of him, of course, because I was around when “Dixon of Dock Green”, staring Jack Warner as the friendly old copper on the beat, told his stories on T.V early on Saturday evenings as I recall. The title of this play however, was vaguely familiar but I don’t know why because I hadn’t seen it before. It concerns an extra-marital relationship in a rather less than middle-class setting that Willis himself described as “about good, honest fumbling people caught up in tiny tragedies” and was made into a film, staring Yvonne Mitchell, Anthony Quayle and Sylvia Sims. Perhaps I remembered the title of the film.
The story is set in the early Sixties and when the curtains opened, we saw two rooms – one much larger than the other and representing a living-room of its time. Two doors – one the way in and out, and the other to the bedroom. There was a draped opening into the kitchen and this was very cleverly, mathematically designed because the other side of the opening doubled as an exit from the smaller room, which was a different house. When actors used the opening from either room, such was the meticulous design there was never as much as a glimpse in the other space. Well done.
The living-room was a masterpiece of designed clutter. The furniture didn’t match; every surface was piled up with paper, ironing; the table where they had breakfast had virtually no room or space to eat; the ironing board was still in use as the ironing was unfinished; the floor itself was festooned with stuff which had not been retrieved – in the corners, under the table etc etc. The picture created by Steve Smith and Alan Reidsma and built by their skilful, willing team was worth a thousand descriptive words in preparing their audiences for the story about to be told. My praise, yet again, is unstinting and freely given. You place your actors in the most realistic of environments and your audiences, who can believe they aren’t watching events on a stage, you have placed actually there. The smaller room is only used once, so was more sparse, but actually right for the part it had to play. Well done.
The story centres round Amy and her husband Jim. Amy is far removed from the ideal housewife of the time. Housework is never finished, food is usually burned, the house is a mess, the radio is always on but too loud, she rarely dresses smartly spending most of her day in her dressing gown. Things are becoming so bad, that Jim is beginning to dread coming home from work at night and even their son, Brian, is beginning to resent coming down to breakfast only to have to get it himself from the kitchen because his mother hasn’t got around to making it. Jim has found solace elsewhere and has made up his mind to tell Amy he is leaving to live with Georgie, the “other” woman. The cast told of their problems and dilemmas so well that we almost felt in their story with them. Why had Amy become that way? Was it intrinsic or was it grief, boredom or loneliness? Why was Jim contemplating abandoning his wife? Both Amy and Brian seemed unaware that he was playing away so had the status quo been accepted and put up with for some considerable time? I didn’t feel I was watching actors at work. I felt that the director, Mike Russell, had created a real-life story here and so feelingly, movingly and realistically did his cast share their problems with us, that we somehow had been allowed to share in this intense human dilemma ourselves. Initially our sympathy was entirely for Amy, despite the so obvious problems she engendered. However, Mike and his actors gave such heart-rending space and emphasis to their problems that we were so aware of their struggles with their feelings for each other and their guilt about the hurt they were all inflicting. Well done indeed, Mike.
Kathryn Fennell played Amy and gave a quite unforgettable performance as this unfortunate, incapable, loving, vulnerable, well meaning, good intentioned but failing wife and mother. It was a massive part, both in the learning demands of the length of dialogue and the myriad of changes in mood feelings, emotions and sentiments. I just wrote that she played Amy – correction – she was Amy. She had drifted into what she had become almost without realising it. She appeared happy, loving Jim and Brian, listening to the radio, doing puzzles – all without realising just what was waiting round the corner. There was an improvement after Jim’s ultimatum, but the fates were against her when her new hairdo was ruined and when the new dress she had bought was ripped trying to get it on. The solace in the bottle of whisky polished off with her friend Hilda, Jane Newman, was only temporary relief to both – the scene was hilariously played by both actresses. Amy’s sadness, grief, intense anger, desolation, desire for revenge, air of hopelessness were all experienced with an honesty which showed us quite graphically an actress of memorable skill. Well played.
Husband Jim was in the experienced hands of Ian Butterfield, and his characterisation showed in truth and heartfelt detail the problem he was now in. Not being blessed by nature as a decisive individual, he had taken what was, in many respects, the easy way out by having an affair. Georgie seemed to be, for him, everything Amy wasn’t and she was in love with him. The future beckoned and Amy must be told. Such was Ian’s characterisation that we virtually felt his situation as if we were in it. He had reached the end of his tether and was showing the scars – he was even being sent to work unable to fasten his shirt collar because of a missing button. Decisions had to be made – further delay was no longer possible – he was even taking it out on Brian and all round guilt was now unbearable. There were big issues here and Ian showed us all of them quite tntensely and we saw a man pulled so many ways we could virtually feel his grief. Well played.
Charlie Welsh played Georgie, the other woman. Her performance spoke volumes about the value of love and just what finding each other was meaning to both of them. Sentimental, sincere, decisive and loving, she was everything Amy wasn’t. With her Jim saw a future to dream about. She showed her guilt feelings truthfully and with sincere integrity, and the understanding sympathy she showed towards Amy when finally agreeing to talk things over with her, and having to face the raw anger and insults, was sensitive acting of quality. Her final decision before leaving was heart-rending, considering all that had gone before in the story. At the end of this scene we realised we had been watching a story unfold, told by actors, whose hearts and souls had been present on stage to-night.
Hilda, Amy’s friend, was played by Jane Newman who added so much joy and life to a story that needed such relief. Vital to Amy, she provided relief, joy, understanding advice and humour. Sympathetic when needing to be and temptingly adventurous e.g. with the whisky, when the time was just right – a scene hilariously and cleverly played by both actresses. At some time in most people's lives, a character like Hilda is called for. We’ll by O.K if we know a character like Jane’s is around – joyously played.
In to-nights performance, son Brian was played by Harvey Bowcock. His characterisation was full of love and care for his mother and respect and admiration for his father. All these sentiments were pressured by events and emotions, but Harvey showed throughout a steadfastness and a sense of belonging that indicated familial strength which would withstand the ordeal it was going through. Well played Harvey – you added your considerable stage presence to the story. Harvey and Charlie Culver shared the part between them and every other night played Paul, Brian’s friend. Your company is to be congratulated on providing young talent with vital experience like this. The same applies to Holly Turner who played the young friend Christine.
Congratulations to Mike and the cast for this production which was thought provoking, of profound depth, stimulating and vastly interesting. Hearts and souls were on view on your stage to-night.
Well done to all involved in any way.Thank you as ever for the warmth of welcome and hospitality. Happy playmaking.