A Fine Bright Day Today, Studio Theatre, Salisbury

LOSS and death hang over Philip Goulding’s play – Margaret Harvey lost her trawlerman husband about 30 years ago and has ever hardly left their run-down fishing community. Now her feisty social worker daughter, Rebecca, is about to move out to live with her poet boyfriend, Pete.

It is just one more loss in a one-dimensional life that is defined by routine – work, housework, sleep, work …

American amateur painter Milton Farnsworth is on the trail of a (fictitious) half-forgotten American artist who died about a century ago. He is staying at what Rebecca describes as a “skanky B&B” and she suggests that he should move into her old room at her mother’s house.

Milton (the versatile and always convincing Paul Chalmers) is happiest out on the wild coast, photographing the sea for his paintings, musing on the life and painting inspiration of the late Franklin Bowden Broome.

He jumps at the idea of moving to a more comfortable setting but although she reluctantly agrees to Rebecca’s idea, shy Margaret (Sharon Lloyd) is uneasy, with a man in the house for the first time in 30 years – particularly when he comes to breakfast in his dressing gown. It is not an auspicious start.

At one level this play is, as Goulding describes it, a “stranger in a strange land” story. It is also, as previous reviewers have commented, a story of hope, as two middle-aged people discover each other and the possibility of love in later life.

But with Margaret’s memory of marriage to a man who was really married to the sea and his fellow fishermen, and Milton’s back story of a dead son, divorce and unexpected business success, their relationship is fragile, and tentative. Both need to find courage and a willingness to open up to new experiences.

Rebecca (well played by Claire Brooks) provides the connection, encouraging her mother to venture out of her self-imposed straitjacket, while Milton helps Margaret to appreciate her daughter’s relationship with Pete.

Margaret is the central character in this unusual triangle – initially awkward, crusty, apparently narrow in her outlook and her life. But in Sharon Howard’s moving, beautifully judged performance, we gradually see the woman who has been hidden away for so long.

There are some very funny lines and some deeply touching scenes as Margaret and Milton gradually discover each other – and the possibility of a new and different life after death and loss.

The play, which runs to Saturday 1st April, is directed by playwright Philip’s younger brother George Goulding, who has been a member of Studio Theatre for many years. Studio has previously staged several of Philip Goulding’s plays, most recently his excellent adaptation of The Titfield Thunderbolt.


Photograph by Trinity Photographic

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