ERNEST Thompson’s play On Golden Pond is best known this side of the Atlantic as an award-winning film that starred father and daughter Henry and Jane Fonda, and provided a catalyst for their exploration of their own difficult relationship.
Now the original play opens Salisbury Playhouse’s autumn season, played on an atmospheric set designed by James Button with an equally evocative soundscape by Dave Price.
This is the summer house on the less inhabited shores of Golden Pond in Maine, where Norman and Ethel have spent the summer months for almost all their 40-something year marriage. And it has evolved its own traditions and rhythms, in tune with the buzzing of the June bugs and the mournful cries of the loons.
Irascible English professor Norman is about to turn 80, and Ethel, almost a decade younger, is worrying about his physical and mental health. He has spent a lifetime contemplating his death, and she has to re-tune her judgement of the seriousness of his melancholy many times a day. He is, in the current vernacular, challenging.
Their daughter Chelsea, an infrequent visitor, turns up with her new boyfriend and his 13-year-old son, and as always, pitches straight into the historic war of attrition with her father.
Director Ria Parry has discovered the perfect balance for this story, as teenager Billy Ray and Norman strike up an unlikely friendship and Chelsea and Norman skirt painfully around their rocky relationship.
It’s beautifully played by Christian Rodska as the frightened, tetchy and very funny Norman, Annabel Leventon as the long suffering Ethel and Emma Pallant (last seen in Salisbury in 2008 in The Herbal Bed) as the awkward, still confused Chelsea.
Updating it almost 35 years from the original is a bit strange, as the physical and verbal language of hiphop has changed, but this is an ageless, timeless tale of intergenerational relationships.
Harry Emerson from Poole makes an impressive professional debut as Billy Ray.
On Golden Pond continues at Salisbury to 5th October.