EVERY time I return to this auditorium built into the side of a hill in Yeovil I prepare myself to be disappointed. I have enjoyed every production I have ever seen there, even of plays I do not like, so sensitive and detailed is the work by the actors, directors and crew. I will no doubt soon be banned from writing about them, as it would seem I am unnecessarily biased in their favour, or perhaps soon they will slip up and produce something I find fault with.
Tonight’s production, in the 50th anniversary year of the author’s death, was not to be that disappointing occasion. From the minute the clever sound engineer (Jenny Law according to the programme) mixed the delightful 1964 wide, room-fillling stereo sound of Rita Pavone backwards into the tiny mono record player at the back of the set, I was mesmerised and we were all transported back in time. I must have seen the Beryl Reid film, but I had long forgotten it, and was now intrigued by the charm of the title character, played by Miguel Brooking, a charm that appeals to male and female admirers, something that becomes a big part of the plot, and ends up with him being shared.
The opening scene between Sarah Ambrose, one of the Swan’s greatest assets, triumphant as Shirley Valentine in years past, as Kath, and Brooking as Sloane, who has just decided to take a room in her house, set the atmosphere and feel for the whole evening, There was a hidden, brooding, menace which underscored the performance as well as the 1964 music, and which was maintained to perfection by Kath’s father “Dada” Kemp, played with a delightfully unknowing frailty by Patrick Knox, and Duncan Wright as her brother Eddie, menacing to the very end, with his connections in the business world and holding all the power because pf his money.
The plot is clever, with gentle humour, plenty of physicality, especially between Kath and Sloane, and some horrible violence, but these four actors played for absolute reality, and director Robert Graydon kept them tightly within their roles. I even believed Eddie’s accent, which was hard to place, but consistent, even when angered or annoyed. The violence was very well handled – not just between men – and one punch thrown by Sloane was particularly shocking, drawing an audible “ooh” from the audience.
Orton’s script takes us from a sexual farce through a comedy of class and manners into a shockingly realistic thriller, all genres which would have shared the West End with this play 53 years ago, and this company, under Graydon, once again, showed off every facet of the work to perfection. If there are any tickets left, try and see this show, and look out for their take on one of Stoppard’s best, Arcadia, in November.