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Ladies In Lavender - Review

I must confess I was a bit doubtful whether I was going to enjoy the latest Holt Drama Society production. I didn’t think it would be my thing, but it was a pleasure to watch, from beginning to end. It’s a gentle play, which I found you just need to let wash over you. I was surprised and impressed with the professionalism and skill, which HDS used to pull off this incredibly challenging production.

Adapted from Charles Dance’s screenplay, which was based on a short story by William Locke, the storyline could be simplistic in the hands of a less skilled cast and director. It contained all the nuance and subtlety required to portray the jealousy, regrets, longing and sadness of two elderly spinster sisters living in a small Cornish village just the late 1930’s – a period still mourning the young men lost in the first World War.

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Ursula played by Susie Giles gave her character just the right amount of pathos and ditziness required to allow me to feel sympathy for her completely inappropriate obsession for the beautiful young Andrea who is washed up on the beach after a storm at sea. Her rather fey portrayal showed a woman who has been starved of experiencing either the passion of a lover or the maternal instincts of motherhood, and still lived in her own fantasy world of fairy tales and happy endings.

 

Janet, played by Alison Pryke was a marvellous contrast in her austere and clipped manner, treating her younger sister with a patronising disdain and pithy put-downs.  Her lines were delivered in that wonderful elderly aunt manner of stiff upper lip, “In the war we just got on with it”. Janet’s loss of her beloved Peter, who never came back from the Somme, shows that tragic generation of women who were consigned to a life of sadness and loss, making the best of things, “Shall we have a biscuit with our cocoa dear?”

The sisters quickly establish that although the common language with Andrea is German, he is actually Polish, and they tenderly nurse him, and teach him English, as he recovers from a nasty injury to his leg. They also discover that he is a talented violinist.

Andrea, played by Luke Howe gave a skilled and tender portrayal of the talented young man, who gradually comes to life in the Cornish cottage. He slowly arouses the rivalry and passions of the two sisters, and responds with gentle kindness, never seeming irritated or patronising towards them. What an achievement for a young actor. I hope we see more of him in the future.  Luke clearly has a career in acting ahead of him. 

Sue Bolden played Dorcas, the inimitable housekeeper, which many genteel but impoverished households struggled to retain in the between wars period. Her bawdy innuendo, Cornish accent, allusions to toad in the hole, and total imperviousness to emptying a “pot”, and dressing a beautiful naked young man, were all taken in her stride.  She avoided the trap of becoming the “comedy turn”. 

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The characters, Doctor Mead, and Olga the Russian artist, gave solidity and gentle pace to a love affair that never happened. Ian Bolden delicately portrayed the widowed doctor who seems somewhat ambivalent about the death of his wife. Mary O’Malley was again a lovely contrast in her absolute refusal to engage with the doctor’s advances.

As we get towards the end, the play touches on the darker side of human nature. Doctor Mead, who has loaned his violin to Andrea, asks for it to be returned, when his jealousy is aroused after seeing Andrea and Olga talking together on the beach.

 

Olga’s dramatic appearance in the final scene was rather like the wicked witch, dressed in her velvet cloak and hat, as she whisks Andrea away from the suffocating care of the sisters, to find fame and fortune with her virtuoso violinist brother in London and beyond.

Special mention must also be made of the set, which was of necessity complex and detailed, and gave the cast some serious challenges with entrances and exits. It was a complete triumph of design and technical build.

Well done HDS on another fabulous production. I look forward to the next one.

Mel O'Drama