THE RIGHT THING
by John Turley
directed by John Turley and Helen Christie
Burnley Garrick Theatre Group
The year is 1945, the war has ended and in a shock result, Labour has won a landslide victory. This isn’t the only shock in this touching, thoughtful and quite beautiful production. The play is written by local playwright John Turley. I have to try and put to one side the buzz I still get of just being in a theatre and put a reviewer’s hat on. I’ll get the minor niggles out of the way as this was a very special night of theatre.
There were a few bumps in the dialogue in early scenes, possibly down to first-night nerves and some scene changes took slightly longer than they should have done. Co-directors Helen Christie and John Turley assembled an excellent cast and directed them incredibly well.
Each actor brought something unique to his or her role; whether hundreds of lines or ten.
The play centres around Alice, a 28 year old woman who has been at home during the war whilst her husband, Frank, was out fighting the enemy.
We open to a living room which occupies the left of the stage and the right of the stage is bare, with other scenes taking place in that space.
Alice was played by Lauren Stirzaker-Jackson and is put through emotional hoops during the play. Lauren played Alice with such confidence, showing Alice’s bravery and fear simultaneously. I could feel the audience with her throughout; a tremendous achievement from a talented performer. Her scenes with Frank being particularly memorable.
Frank was played by Gary Leonard, Gary owned the role, commanding the stage whilst not hogging the limelight. He is large in stature, but clearly a shaken man after the horrors of war. I believed in him and the character as soon as he entered early in the play. One particularly effective scene, Frank returns home from the pub, drunk, and is genuinely frightening, wobbling around the stage and handling his wife. Both Lauren and Gary deserve commendation.
Frank’s shoulder to cry on was Jimmy, a wide eyed idealist, a true believer in the socialist cause. Jimmy, played by Dominic Moffitt was almost the moral anchor of the play, constantly trying to steer Frank on the right path and butting heads with the local spiv played with a frightening relish John Cummings. I found Dominic’s portrayal of Jimmy quietly moving. The scene on top of Pendle Hill (suggested to us via effective sound effects and good acting, theatre at its best) was very tender in its sincerity. I hope to see Dominic on stage again.
Arthur, Alice’s father, begins as the light relief, until we delve below the character’s grumpy surface. Arthur is brought to life by Alan Hargreaves, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen Alan on stage. He was superb. From one of his first lines, ‘that vicar’s a communist if ever I saw one’, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. He twinkled on stage, bringing laughter whilst talking to his veg and tears admitting his far from perfect past. He felt so genuine in his collarless shirt and crumpled cords. The costumers all-round were top notch as were the period props and set.
Stephen Dixon played the minister, a socialist to his core, moral and kind. Preaching about Attlee’s government, trying to do god’s work or having a quiet moment with Alice, Stephen made the part his own.
John Cummings who played the local spiv doubled up as the mill owner Hargreaves. Hargreaves was a typical boss of the time caught in the changing times and resisting or possibly resenting social change. John differentiated between the two characters with ease, Vinnie was particularly watchable, flitting between oily charm and naked aggression within the blink of an eye. An accomplished performance by an accomplished player.
Alice finds herself in deep trouble and confides in her best friend Vi. Vi is of the time she is in. Emma Jane Samworth was a revelation as Vi. From her early celebration of the Labour Victory to her revulsion at Alice’s situation, Emma didn’t miss a beat, her accent never slipped. A good woman, who just couldn’t hide commonly held views of the time, her perceived betrayal brimming to the surface in another brilliant scene so well executed by Emma.
Act 2 opens in the local drinking house with a rousing sing song. A few company members are used to up the numbers in crowd scenes and added to the atmosphere greatly, busying themselves gossiping and drinking. Singing with the best of them is Simon Pomfrets Charlie, his nerves shot from the horrors of war, left only with a stutter and his army Number. A brilliant, touching portrayal, Charlie loses his stammer when entertaining the locals with his impressions and old gags, another highlight in a play full of them.
Beverly McKiernan no stranger to character parts brings so much to her dual role of Elsie and Babs, exclaiming that Attlee has no clue or sneaking off for a kiss with a local publican: she shines on the stage.
Kathleen Riley as Woman in Chapel, only on for a brief time but with a few lines, easily established a character with a look or a gesture.
The whole evening was a joy. Sound, lighting, and even the songs chosen, were evocative, as we were treated to Vera Lynn, George Formby and Gracie Fields.
I shall not forget The Garrick’s production of “The Right Thing” for a long time. Acting, writing and direction all coming together to create a wonderful experience.
As Attlee once said, ‘Lets go forward together’ – well, this company did.