WILLIAM J Locke’s short story Ladies in Lavender is best known in Charles Dance’s film starring dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, but as so often happens with cinema adaptations, the stage play is a much subtler dramatic form.
So it is with Shaun McKenna’s version, chosen by director Patricia Richardson for ImpAct’s autumn tour stopping at the Winton Bournemouth Little Theatre Club and at the Shelley Theatre in Boscombe. Once again she has gathered a fine cast of local actors, and used the often challenging spaces to fine effect, creating the carefully arranged lives of the spinster sisters in their cottage by a Cornish beach. There Janet and Ursula live in the house that was their parents’ before them, watching the sea and tending the garden.
With the redoubtable Dorcas helping out, their lives are methodically comfortable, Janet wordlessly grieving a fiance lost in the Great War and Ursula grieving that she has never found the love she craves. Until, one blustery morning after a storm, Ursula sees what looks like a body on the sand. It turns out to be Andrea, a violinist from Poland who was washed off a New York bound liner in the storm.
But this is the period between the wars, when suspicions of all things German and central European run high in the isolated South Western community. Andrea begins to learn to speak English, and aspects of his former life are revealed. Then a mysterious Russian painter appears on the beach, and begins to take an interest in the beautiful young man.
The balance of the sisters’ lives is turned upside down as jealousies and misgivings turn what seems like a promised saviour to Ursula into a threat both to the local doctor and to Janet.
Beautifully performed by a six strong company, there isn’t a moment when these characters seem anything less than urgently real. Joanna Dunbar brings tangible suppressed anguish to Ursula, and Beverly Beck’s Janet is an exemplar of protective and controlled emotion.
Linda Denning provides the much-needed light relief as Dorcas, and Martyn Brown’s Dr Mead has all the conflict of an intelligent man battling with personal longing and responsibility for his dependent community.
Adam Forrester’s Andrea, struggling with a new language and a broken ankle, is a charming, volatile and vulnerable young man, driven by his own artistry, and Kelly Ann Singleton is the archly determined Olga.
Do see this production if you can. It will open your eyes to much more than the memorable film was able to do.