Association of Community Theatre


by Noël Coward

St Joseph’s Players

Director: Doreen Johnson


The programme for this presentation said, “This year our country is remembering the end of the First World War”. “This play is our Society’s commemoration of this centenary”.

It is said Coward was irked that people thought he could only write about “posh people”, that he didn’t understand suburban life. He proved them wrong.  In this comedy, “This Happy Breed”, Coward captures the salt-of-the-earth virtues of the lower-middle classes.


The setting for the play covers the inter-wars period 1919 to 1939 of the Gibbons’ family. All the action takes place in the living room of 17, Sycamore Road. The Players’ set, and set dressings, represented the era. Maybe a few furniture changes would have indicated the good fortunes of the family. As things got better and the family became more affluent, the family was able to afford to employ a maid, Edie, who was played by Kitti Dixon and who certainly made her mark as the domestic.


A great deal of thought had gone into the ladies’ presentation. As is always the case for this period, the men’s attire is quite difficult to obtain, and so the result was not quite as in-period as it might have been. Costumes make such a statement and as such they are a metaphor forl the first line of any dialogue.


Government family support was not in place at this time which meant, therefore, the extended family all lived under one roof. The Gibbons’ household included Mum and Dad. their two daughters, son, Mr Gibbons’ mother-in-law, and his Sister. They fill the house with love, triumphs and tragedies.


Mrs Flint, Barbara Mayers, the family matriarch, and Frank’s mother-in-law, created all the aches and pains that increased over the period. The sparring with Frank’s sister, Sylvia, was well handled, especially when Sylvia threatens to slap Mrs Flint’s face, “till her teeth rattled”.


Clare Nash delivered a whole spectrum of emotions as the nervy, unwell but feisty Sylvia, who finds inner strength after being introduced to the Christian Science movement.


The Gibbons’ siblings were played by Jordan Boylan as Reg, Christy Colman as Vi along with their friends, Ryan Deakin as Sam, and Zoe Unsworth as Phyllis. They captured the shyness in male and female relationships, and they grew in personality through the decades depicted in the plays.


Queenie, another daughter who wants to marry into a higher society, runs off with a married man only to be left abandoned. Karen Jones gave quite a performance as Queenie delivering such a well-drawn character. Queenie is pursued by Billy, who is rejected by her, but they do eventually marry. Danny McCarrick, as Billy, brought out the honesty of the able seaman.


Running and keeping the large close-knit family together through weddings, births, tragedy and death is Frank’s wife, Ethel.  Pauline Nevell extracted everything from the role. There are so many facets to this character, and Pauline displayed them all.


We first meet the head of the family, Frank Gibbons (Darran Nash) just after he has returned from the killing fields in 1919.  At this time he has more in common with ex-soldier and neighbour, Bob Mitchell. Michael Evans, as Bob, encapsulated the humanity of Frank’s trusted friend.


The role of Frank has to display all the standards and values of the times 100 years ago, concluding with a moral homily to his sleeping grandson. Darran, in his second major role, had some of the most challenging dialogue and speeches to convey. Darran smoothly handled the Gibbons’ family tensions, and found the truth within Coward’s dramatic slice of urban life.