BREATH OF SPRING
by Peter Coke
Directed by Gary Woodhall
Altrincham Little Theatre
This play, set in the 1950s, reflects an era in time that isn’t quite the same as modern day. The idea that people have real fur coats and stoles is repugnant to most people today but when this play was set, it was an accepted norm and something that many people aspired to own. To own a real fur was a symbol of affluence and reflected a certain social standing. Similarly, people with titles such as Dame, Lady and Brigadier would be deferred too by many members of the public.
This play centres around a group of people, who, shall we say, are in their twilight years. Dame Beatrice has come to a time in her life when, we presume, money has started to become a problem and so she opens up her house as flats. Beatrice does like the finer things in life and laments not having them. When she is given a mink stole by her maid, Lily, she is reminded of the maid's shady past and immediately suspects that it was stolen from the next flat. A former army officer and other lodgers endeavour to return the stole. The plan is devised with care and all of them take such delight in the secretive scheme that they wonder why they don't do this more often. The whole thing seems to have an edge of danger for them and makes them feel young again. So, they form a syndicate for stealing and returning furs. Everything goes well until a loss is reported and the police come charging in. The maid is horrified to discover what has been going on behind her back but agrees to employ her talents to bail the amateurs out of trouble if they agree to never touch another fur. She succeeds, the police leave, and life returns to its humdrum ways until someone remembers that it was only furs they had promised not to touch and we leave suspecting that their endeavours carry on.
To put this play on, it was evident that as the director, Gary Woodhall says, involved a sense of team spirit. The set designed and built by Polina Sparks, Alan Reidsma and a small army of volunteers was, as always, excellent and effective so as not to restrict the flow of movement around the stage, especially during the times that all the cast were on. The hidden maps behind picture frames was extremely funny and had the audience members laugh out loud. There was a good array of props, sourced by Charles Thomas, such as vases, memorabilia and appropriate big furniture that was reminiscent of past times. The sound and lighting, by Steve Smith subtly added ambiance to the production, and the use of projection, produced by Vicky Carlin and Polina Sparks, to entertain the audience when a scene change was happening was inspired.
Another team element was the merry band of actors who robbed from the rich and gave (for they did not keep their profits) to the poor. This had me reflect on a folk tale of a similar band of thieves! Barbara Steel was a great choice for the part of Dame Beatrice. She had a great stage presence and gave a big performance. Her pointed remarks to others were timely delivered. Her interaction with Christine Perry was fabulous, especially as the two ladies vied for the attention of Arthur Hulse, the pompous, gruff and precision-minded Brigadier who softens as he finds himself the amour of both the Dame and her friend Lady Alice. I got the impression that he enjoyed playing the object of desire. Christine made sure she got every piece of comedy out of her role: the window scene when dropping her handkerchief being especially memorable.
The efficient, no nonsense elocution teacher is a character role which is obviously right up Cherrill Wyche’s street. The skips of enjoyment and song that brought the comedy of the piece alive and reminded me of Joyce Grenfell at the top of her game. The attempt at hiding in a bedding chest was a hoot. Georgia Daglish as, Lily, the maid, had a good accent, presence on stage and was super with the one-liners in the script, especially when she was tearing a strip off those of a higher social standing, who all looked suitably chastened.
Janet Reidsma, the pessimistic and worrier of the gang, Hattie, beautifully conveyed her conflicting emotions. Her nervousness brought to the fore the dangers of being caught that one suspects they must all have felt but oh, the thrill of it all! The small role of the embarrassed Scotland Yard Inspector was brought out well by a newcomer to the society, John Jones.
If we talk of teams, we cannot forget those cheery souls that are out front. Thank you for your hospitality and I look forward to seeing you soon. A production is made up of teams that come together in a common cause and has the effect of putting on a spectacle for the public to enjoy.