Association of Community Theatre


By N.J. Crisp

Directed by Dorothy Spencer

Burnley Garrick


At first glance this might well be considered a play about euthanasia but it is more than just that.  It is a play about hope and looking forward to a positive future.  As a 1996 review of the Guildford production said, “{‘That Good Night’ is] Compassionate in its expression of filial and marital love. It is not a play about euthanasia, but about the nature and meaning of life and, in its way, a kind of tragic love story.”


A well-designed set portraying the patio of the Tuscan villa, gave the cast plenty of room to move around.  Breaking up the stucco walls were potted orange and laurel bushes with ivy covering the wall leading to the swimming pool.  Patio furnishings completed the picture.  I was very impressed by the lighting used to create the appearance of a flagged patio floor. Indeed, the whole lighting plot created the impression of a villa basking in the warm Italian sunshine. The incidental music of The Gadfly Op. 97a: Romance by Shostakovich helped to create the right atmosphere and cover the scene transitions. The whole backstage team deserves credit for the play’s presentation.


Alan Hargreaves plays Ralph Maitland, an ageing English screenwriter, living out his final days in a beautiful villa in Tuscany. He is married to the much younger Anna (Anne Chadwick). They’re seemingly very content together but, by his own admission, Ralph is an “obstinate old dog”. He can be very tactless and cruel.


Over the years, Ralph has left emotional wreckage in his wake. He has never been properly reconciled with his son, Michael (James Bateman), whom he never wanted to have.


In a bid to put his affairs in order before he dies, he summons Michael (himself a successful writer) to see him. Michael turns up with his girlfriend Debbie (Sophie Greenwood) in tow. Ralph is sarcastic and rude to her. He ends up being so offensive and sexist that the couple leave before he can explain his scheme to his son.


Steve Cooke, wearing a black suit, was the vaguely sinister and ethereal-seeming “visitor” who came to help Ralph in his plan for an assisted suicide. It is only a small role but so very important to the central premise of end of life decisions.


The old writer soon realised, though, that he doesn’t want to go “gentle into that good night”. There are reasons for trying to stick around a while longer.


A consummate performance by Alan Hargreaves created the irascible, tetchy Ralph.  With superb pace and delivery, we were in turn irritated by, and sympathetic to, this successful man nearing the end of his existence having survived major heart surgery only to be given more bad news that his days were numbered.  Wishing to be reconciled with his long-estranged son, Ralph, played by James Bateman, he had invited him to the villa.  His daily routine would not be changed because of this visit with the result that Ralph, who arrived early, was able to spend time with his step-mother, Anna, played by Anne Chadwick. This was an opportunity for us to learn more about each of them and their respective relationship with Ralph.  We felt for Anna, who had wanted children, but Ralph was set against the whole idea.


Michael had, unannounced, brought his girlfriend, Debbie, along both as moral support in what promised to be a tetchy encounter, and to introduce her to his father.  Debbie, played by Sophie Greenwood, was very much a lady in charge of her own destiny, certainly was not going to put up with Ralph’s rudeness, and she didn’t.  Only a small role, but Sophie was most definitely the centre of Ralph’s attention when he was faced with the prospect of becoming a grandfather.


The change in attitude towards wanting a grandchild but not wishing to fulfil Anna’s desire for a child was superbly portrayed by Anne Chadwick and Alan. Anne’s incredulity and then disappointment tinged with frustration was keenly observed.


The final scenario was very moving as Ralph’s last letter was read.  Anna’s final words, “I always knew [that he loved me]” will no doubt have brought a lump to the throat of all but the most hardened of hearts.


Dorothy Spencer has again woven her directorial magic and, with her superb cast, created a lovely end to a fine Garrick season.