By Keith Waterhouse
Directed by Tom Littler
Theatre Royal Bath Productions
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Thursday 1st November 2012
I think this sort of thing is called a ‘gentle’ comedy, as there aren’t quite as many laughs as you get with a robust comedy. Based on a Keith Waterhouse novel, this play covers a few months in the life of a recently widowed woman whose husband had been an editor in Fleet Street. She tried to follow his deathbed instruction to her that she write a diary of her feelings after he died, but she ended up talking to him instead which effectively meant we heard her inner thoughts about the people she was dealing with, plus the occasional discourse on things in general. The comments were often very funny, and the situation provided some humour as well, though it wasn’t the strongest I’ve seen for this kind of story.
The set was fairly elaborate and provided two main locations – the living room of the widow’s house and an area of the local pub. There were one or two other places which were usually just spotlit areas of the main stage, but mostly we were in one or other of those two settings. The living room went from the front bay window on our left across the sofa, table and chairs to the folding dining table and kitchen door on the right. The front door was just off back left with a door to the garage beside it. The stairs started next to the main entrance and went up to the landing which had one cupboard door on the left and a couple of bedroom doors. For the pub, these stairs slid to the right and the pub seating slid forward – an L-shaped nook with a table. The bar was round by the garage, and the stairs became the stairs of the pub, leading to the loos. Occasionally the characters came forward and used the sofa area as part of the pub, and though I found this a little confusing, overall it worked pretty well, and it did make the scene changes a bit quicker.
The main problem for me was the casting. Penelope Keith is very good at certain things, but she can’t do Northern grit for love nor money. Her accent toured round the British Isles, touching base most often in the Home Counties, but with a fair amount of reference to her character’s point of origin. Her comic timing was still fine, but without the biting delivery that gives that kind of humour a real kick. She did her best and it wasn’t bad, just adequate, which was a shame for the others in the cast who were, I felt, capable of more if they’d had a more suitable leading lady. Maybe we’ll see another production of this in years to come and be able to judge it better.
Christopher Ravenscroft was fine as the potential love interest, a downsized office worker whose attempts to set himself up as a handyman were doomed to failure, judging by the refitting of the widow’s fridge door. Flora Montgomery played the step-daughter, whose relationship with her step-mother changed after some revelations, while Jonathan Firth was wonderfully smarmy as the recently deceased journalist’s ex-boss – you knew he was a wrong ‘un the minute he walked in the room. The understudies also saw some action as the other people in the pub – waitresses and customers – which must have been more fun than doing crosswords in their dressing rooms, and gave us the momentary pleasure of checking out who would have understudied whom.
Not the greatest production we’ll see this year by any means, but with Ms Keith in the lead role they should do good business.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me