Association of Community Theatre

Show Reviews 2017


by Terence Rattigan

Manchester Athenaeum


As soon as the play opens, we know that we have a serious drama on our hands here.  It was written at a time when unsuccessful suicide was an offence, - later repealed in the 1961 Suicide Act.  Rattigan never chose to write plays with popular themes.  Adultery was a contentious issue, - some would argue that it still is, but over the years views on both topics have changed.  Most of us know of, or have heard of or have read about cases of adultery and it is possible nowadays, I believe,  to actually facilitate death at a cost.  Rattigan is dealing here with serious themes unaware, of course, about modern attitudes towards both themes.  The fairly recent revival of his work has brought a new interest into his work, and also given actors a new opportunity to get involved with and be presented by a new challenge to their art.


The play centres round the life of Hester who, having fallen in love with Freddie, has left the comfort of her life with William, who is a judge and much older.  Her relationship with Freddie is becoming unbearable as she begins to realise her all-consuming, intense love for him is not returned and she begins to realise that he will never be able to reciprocate it.  This is causing problems for both of them and in her despair, suicide seems the only way out for her.  The play opens with the discovery of Hester, lying before a gas fire, unlit but switched on.


You had created a super set, somewhat down market from what Hester had been used to before leaving her husband, the judge, no doubt.  It was compact, respectable and was obviously an apartment cared for but lacked somehow a feminine touch with regard to its decor, its colour and female fripperies and light.  It was purposeful and its blue walls and solid woodwork were substantial rather than stimulating, and superbly reflected its occupant and what she was going through in her life at this moment.  There were doors S.L. and S.R. and U.S.R. a front door.  The furniture was both useful and necessary, and a telephone was on a table near the front door.  There were pictures displayed on some walls, obviously, Hester’s work and they added some colour and interest to the room.


   Hester was played by Sarah Kirk and, I believe, this was her debut for the society.  The role is a long and difficult character to sustain and has many emotional feelings to portray.  It requires total belief and commitment from the actress and this is what it received from Sarah, who used her wide experience and remarkable acting gifts to enhance her performance.  Indeed there were times during the evening when one could believe that one wasn’t watching an actress at work, but by some quirk of fate, one was actually involved invisibly.  The subservient way she cleaned Freddie’s shoes spoke volumes and her breakdown as she tried desperately to prevent him from leaving was well achieved.  The final “Goodbye”, after his return, so resolutely still and her attention fixed elsewhere, was almost unbearable as one realised the cost and was concerned about the future.  A sensitive, memorable performance.  Well played!


   Peter Ruddick played Freddie and from his initial entrance festooned with golf clubs, bags etc, he seemed to fill the stage with life and personality, not always attractively.  I suppose one could see why Hester had fallen for him and yet we soon sensed all was not well as both actors sensitively acted out their problems.  He had forgotten her birthday and eventually broke the news that he had accepted a job abroad and was not taking her with him.  His attempt at self-justification was volubly expressed and his incensed, passionate letting off steam to his friend Jackie, built from inconsequential chat to a torrent of confidential, genuine feeling.  He sustained it all with frightening reality and frequent recourse to the whisky bottle which would make him odds on favourite for stage drinking champion of the year.  His look back as he closed the door on his final exit was extremely moving.


The small part of Jackie, Freddie’s mate, was in the hands of Alastair Bewsher and his studied underplaying helped to make their scene together quite memorable.  His ability to listen expressively, (a vital aspect of their art not always realised by actors), put his comments across and gradually built embarrassment and discomfort as Freddie became increasingly bitter,  was an object lesson for us all.  Team playing at its best because it added strength to the character of Freddie by amelioration yet added poignancy to the whole scene.  Well done!


Nick Berish played Mr. Miller from upstairs – not a doctor but reputed to have medical skills.  We were welcoming him back to the stage after a lengthy absence and he played the friend in need with sympathetic and, when necessary, decisive authority.  He gave his character a believable and well-sustained foreign accent and his scene in the second half, when he tries to reassure Hester and is a sort of father confessor to her was well achieved.  Suspecting her of a possible further suicide attempt, he became a haven of coolness and sympathy yet putting his advice across with no room for misunderstanding.  We all realised that he could become a tower of strength to her and that became a relief to us.


Leila Pilkington was Mrs Elton, the landlady and took the part at very short notice when the original actress had to go to hospital the victim of an unfortunate road accident.  We wish her well on her road to recovery.  Leila had played the part in another company’s production and was able to become a ready made replacement just in the nick of time.  She has our sincere thanks for her availability and readiness to “save the show” with her experience and her convincing characterisation.


Himat Singh Athwal played neighbour Philip and Kathleen Matthews his wife, Anne.  They were instrumental, together with Mrs Elton, in finding and initially caring for the unconscious Hester.  He was quiet and reassuring in his way, and were both sympathetic and considerate.  He spoke about his experience in an interesting and articulate way, but I felt occasionally projection dropped and there was room for a little more “punch”.  Both he and Kathleen established their characters well, and, although Kathleen didn’t have all that many lines to work with, she was a positive influence in the story and coped well with what she had to do.


Roger Browne played Hester’s husband, Sir William Collyer who was a judge.  Excellent initial entrance full of concern, he was a large, commanding figure and the whole play seemed to lift on his appearance, such was the despairing note of the story’s opening.  Roger played the part of the estranged husband well, using his mellifluous voice to express his still sincere love and using the stage as if he were at home there.  He convincingly demonstrated that, though he seemed to accept the situation was irrevocable, he still loved his wife, later on even telling her.  Very effective when angry and the occasional blast was definitely something not to be argued with – very effective because only used sparingly.  The scenes between Sarah and Roger came across as heartfelt and here were two actors working together in complete harmony.  Well done.

Congratulations to Val Collier, your director, who drew from her cast, characterisations full of detail, feelings, emotion and heart.  They understood their situations and had genuine belief in the story they were telling.  She coaxed from her cast an evening of dramatic impact and realism.  We witnessed the baring of souls on your stage to-night.


Well done to everyone involved in any way.


Many thanks for your friendly welcome and hospitality, as ever.  Happy playmaking.