Ladies in Lavender is comfort food in theatre form. Looking around the auditorium before the start of the performance it was clear that if you were under 50 then you were very much in the minority. Yet, having said that, the play was enjoyable and the performances from all actors were of a very high calibre – a credit to good casting. Adapted by Shaun McKenna from the 2004 film of the same name, the story works surprising well as play and at no point does it feel simply like a staged film.
Much credit must go to Hayley Mills and Belinda Lang for their portrayal of two ageing women, whose life of cocoa before bed and the village jumble sale is transformed when they decide to house an unconscious stranger washed up on the beach near to their home. Lang’s grounded and infinitely more sensible older sister, Janet, perfectly complements Mills’s endearing and almost childish portrayal of Ursula. They are totally believable as sisters, and thankfully Director Robin Lefevre never lets them become stereotypical old biddies; Lang’s comic timing is allowed to shine through perfectly at the right moments and at all times we believe in their never-fading passion and desire. Ursula’s large capacity to love finds an object of desire in Robert Rees’s Andrea. His foreign charm and impulsiveness capture the heart of the two women and the audience. A mention must go to dialect coach Majella Hurley since Rees’s Polish accent and Abigail Thaw’s Russian accent were spot-on.
Not merely a tale of wasted love, the played touches on the lingering effects of the First World War in a 1937 England, with the shadows of a second war hovering. Robert Duncan’s Dr Mead was a prefect example of the lingering suspicion towards people who could speak German and the obvious foreignness of Olga and Andrea, which stood in stark contrast to the Cornish locals.
The stage itself was an impressive feat, combining garden, drawing room, bedroom and the Cornish seashore all on stage at the same time. Attention to detail and authenticity were highly impressive. Liz Ascroft’s inter-linking design was brought even more to life by Mick Hughes’s and John Leonard’s lighting and sound design, creating lighting storms one minute and a London concert hall the next. However, despite the fact there were no set changes, there were times when the pace of the play dragged a little, though the momentum did pick up for the second act. But all in all it was a wonderfully well-rounded production.
While the play cannot be said to be ground-breaking or boundary-pushing in any shape or form, it is an endearing and tender story very well told.
Ladies in Lavender is playing at the Richmond Theatre until 16 June. For more information and tickets, see the Richmond Theatre website.