Sailor Beware – March 2007


By PhilipKing  and Falkland Cary

Directed by Ian Dickens

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 27th March 2007

This is a great example of the perils of in-laws. Albert Tufnell, a sailor who’s been an orphan from his early days, was about to marry Shirley, only daughter of Henry and Emma Hornett. This play covered the afternoon and evening leading up to the big day and the morning itself. Things didn’t go according to plan, at least not to Emma’s plan which was all she seemed to care about.

The play started with Edie, Henry’s sister, and Emma. The wedding cake had just arrived, and in her confusion Edie put the hot teapot down on Emma’s lovingly polished sideboard, leaving a mark. Ructions ensued, as Emma browbeat Edie into polishing the mark to see if she could get it out. At first, I had some sympathy for Emma, as Edie was one of those nervous, bumbling, people who can really get on my nerves, but as events unfolded we came to see Emma as she really was – a domineering woman who didn’t let anyone have a moment’s peace. She felt it her duty to point out everyone else’s mistakes and shortcomings, of which there were many. I thought when Shirley came along we’d see a different type of woman, but amazingly, Albert had fallen for a younger version of Emma! And despite spending a couple of long leaves with the family, as well.

Thanks to Edie, with whom Albert flirted outrageously, he found out that Emma had put down a deposit on a house three doors along the road, and with Shirley’s connivance. He’d been planning to move a few miles away to get work when his stint in the Navy was finished, and he wasn’t at all happy to hear this news. He gave Shirley several opportunities to tell him about it, but she flunked them all. He spent the night thinking about this, and decided not to go to the wedding the next morning. He came back to the house afterwards though, to ask Shirley to marry him but on his terms. She agreed, and the play ended with the family heading back off to the church for the wedding.

There was lot to enjoy in the play and in the performances. I liked the balance between the characters, and the fact that there was no black and white – everyone had their good points. Edie was annoying, but kind. She’d been left at the altar herself, so she decided there’s a curse on the family when the same thing happened to Shirley. Henry was seriously henpecked, but did speak up for himself increasingly as the play goes on. His final outpouring, after Albert and Shirley had come to an understanding, was great fun, especially as he didn’t just rubbish his wife for making everyone’s lives miserable. He knew she was also the one who made the comfortable home he was living in, who had put up with Edie for over twenty years, and who had his meal on the table every evening; there was a reference to other wives who are down the pictures when their husbands come home, with fish and chips in the oven for them – the Reverend winced when he mentioned this. Henry coped by having his ferrets to look after – they’re a good deal more affectionate than his wife. One of Rosie’s litter died on the morning of the wedding, and there was some fun when Henry and Edie tried to hide the body from Emma.

Emma herself was quite a character, and held the whole plot together. This performance was excellent and got across her personality, warts and all. There were too many good bits to list them all, but a special mention must go to the scene where the Reverend wanted a quiet word with Albert and Shirley and Emma naturally assumes that meant her as well!

Albert was the other main character in this comedy. He was the first person to stand up to Emma since she was born, from the looks of things, and he came across as being lively but with good common sense. Now that he’d put his foot down, hopefully Shirley won’t turn out like her mother.

The rest of the characters weren’t so significant, but there were some good performances all the same. Carnoustie, Albert’s Scottish pal from the Navy who was going to be his best man, was an uptight puritanical type to begin with, but he loosened up after Daphne made a play for him. She was Shirley’s cousin and one of the bridesmaids, and game for anything by the looks of her. Shirley was quite snippy with her at first – after all, she walked in the room to find Albert holding Daphne’s rather shapely leg. Shirley was a close copy of her mother, but was obviously feeling guilty about not telling Albert about the house deposit. She managed the change into a more reasonable human being very well.

The next door neighbour made a few appearances, always when there was a pot of tea arriving at the table. She even swiped the cup intended for Shirley, after the trauma of being jilted. The main problem I had was not being able to hear her dialogue very well, while all the others came across loud and clear. Finally, there was the Reverend, who only turned up towards the end. I found this performance rather out of keeping with the rest of the production – a bit over the top, with a loud voice and clumsy gestures. I got the impression it’s an understudy’s part – not too much to do, so the ASM can take it over if the understudy’s called on for a bigger role. There were still plenty of laughs, but I felt there was more there.

It was a very entertaining evening, and a cut above the Connaught’s usual fare. Even though it was obviously of its time, this play had a directness to it that made it seem very modern. Good fun all round.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at