GARETH Armstrong’s Fondly Remembered premiered just two years ago in London and only became available for amateur performance a few months ago, so Halse have been (not uncharacteristically) quick off the mark in obtaining the rights. Four former colleagues, all theatricals (extremely so in some cases) meet to arrange the memorial service of a recently deceased, once very close, colleague of whom they have mixed memories.
Reading a brief description of the play left me anticipating something quite dark, with old passions rekindled and bad memories revived, but in fact the tone is generally light; old grudges do come to light, but relate to peccadilloes rather than mortal sins and the ending is unashamedly feelgood. The dialogue occasionally tends to the bland but is for the most part well written and lively. The overall result is an agreeable if not especially demanding evening punctuated with smart one-liners.
The characters – cranky veteran with a nice line in put-downs, flamboyant gay with an eye for younger men, glamorous luvvie with an exotic wardrobe and a tendency to malapropism, and dowdy OCD-prone ex-stage manager – come pretty much off the peg, but stay well on the right side of caricature and are no less relishable for being familiar types. The only one with a surprise up his sleeve is the seemingly unworldly vicar who turns out to have found God only after a highly successful career in the city and to drive a Porsche (“Mammon and I parted on excellent terms”).
Jan Baker’s and Caroline Cook’s direction is unfussy and brings the best out of their cast. Alan Byrne as cynical Don has his full share of one-liners and delivers them with nice comic timing, and David Porter enjoys himself hugely and does well to make gay Barry outrageously camp yet still believable. Jay Brooksbank turns in a thoroughly enjoyable performance as glam queen Zoe, and while the malapropism as a source of humour is hardly original, many of hers are genuinely funny (“I got my MBE for servicing to broadcasters”); Louisa Beale as Cressida seemed a little hesitant at first but grew into the part to excellent effect. Leff Cook’s vicar does a nice job of staying unflappably serene while usually a step behind.
One word of commendation for the set. Making a junk room look convincing is nothing like as easy as one might think, and the design team here do a splendid job.