Association of Community Theatre


by A.R. Gurney

Colne Dramatic Society

directed by Beverly McKiernan


On stage, two wing armchairs, two small side tables which each held a small glass of water, and a black curtained background was the scene greeting patrons to the first night of Colne Dramatic Society’s opening play of the season.


This was all that was needed for A.R. Gurney’s delightful play, Love Letters. Gurney, a somewhat under-performed playwright in the U.K. who is probably best known for “The Cocktail Party” is, for me, one of the very best of modern American playwrights.  He is a playwright who creates a microcosm of a declining American upper-class.  As Gurney said in a 1989 interview with the New York Times,


“WASPs [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant] do have a culture — traditions, idiosyncrasies, quirks, particular signals and totems we pass on to one another. But the WASP culture, or at least that aspect of the culture I talk about, is enough in the past so that we can now look at it with some objectivity, smile at it, and even appreciate some of its values. There was a closeness of family, a commitment to duty, to stoic responsibility, which I think we have to say weren't entirely bad."


At first thought, with a play like “Love Letters”, two characters reading aloud letters they have written to each other over the years will not make good theatre.


But Beverly McKiernan sums it up perfectly in her programme notes when she says, “… we run the risk of disappointing an audience which has grown accustomed to all the trappings of theatre today”


However, in the hands of two experienced actors, which is,  for this play, absolutely essential, you have the makings of a wonderful night at the theatre.


I first saw this play in America in the mid 90s and fell in love with it then.  For me, the narrative reveals the characters’ lives, aspirations, foibles and attitudes as well as disappointments. It is as though we are peeling an onion, layer upon layer, revealed as the letters take us from when they were childhood friends, thanking each other for parties, cards and presents, to college and work and travel.  We learn about their families and what has been expected of them.


Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner, after early childhood, rarely see one another but continue with their correspondence even when their lives take them in different directions.  We learn of their marriages and their children.  We learn about their spouses, and we learn about their progress in life, with all its ups and downs.  We realise that they are, in fact, in love with each other, but from a distance.  Their individual lives move off in very different directions.


All this we learn from their correspondence with each other.


Andrew was played by Alan Bailey, fresh from the stage of the Garrick’s last play, “A View From the Bridge”.  Melissa was played by Marilyn Crowther on the night I saw the play. Carolanne Connolly is playing Melissa on alternate nights and this will, no doubt, give a slightly different perspective to the role but be equally as valid.


All three are performers at the very top of their game: three performers who become the characters they portray.


The director told me she would be interested to read my 1500 words about the set – no need.  It was as Gurney would have approved.


I love this play, I loved this presentation, and I do hope more people get to see it as I am sure they will talk about it for a long time afterwards.


The play is at times a witty, funny, and poignant revelation of the two characters’ lives.  And I guarantee you will have a lump in your throat as it ends.


An excellent start to the Colne DS season.  Very many congratulations to everyone involved.  Thank you for your warm hospitality and in the words of my ACT colleague, Brian Seymour, happy playmaking.