To any newbie visiting Frinton Summer Theatre for the first time there are some particularly quaint English traditions that will mark out this experience as something different to the norm. The first being the national anthem is played before the performance commences (and you must stand). The second is the raffle after the interval where a lucky ticket holder can win anything from a bottle of gin to a gift voucher.
Frinton Summer Theatre is now in its 81st year and started the season with ‘Ladies in Lavender’, a play adapted from a star-studded 2004 film, which was originally based on a 1908 short story by William J Locke. With such a heritage you may wonder if over 100 years later the message has got confused, but I’m pleased to report the themes of love, loss, desire and jealousy are very clear and make for a movingly powerful performance.
‘Ladies in Lavender’ is set in a Cornish village in the 1930s where a sense of propriety and all things ‘done proper’ are the order of the day. The Widdington sisters, Ursula (Emily Raymond) and Janet (Virge Gilchrist) are ageing, solitary creatures who happen upon a young, handsome man washed up on the beach. Overwhelmed by his plight and near death, they take him into their home and nurse him back to health. The first twist is that the man, Andrea (James Hastings), is Polish and a gifted violinist who was enroute to America. The second twist is that a holidaying amateur artist, Olga (Deli Segal), has connections that could help him.
As a plot perhaps this sounds a little dated for today’s audiences, but there is nothing dated about the pain of unrequited love. There is also nothing old-fashioned about the vengeful actions another will take when spurned by jealousy. What is perhaps rather more different for today’s audiences is the considered way in which such big themes are presented, and it is in their smallness that you realise the bigness. There are no showy action scenes, big shakedowns or dramatic arguments which have you reaching for the ear plugs – this is a performance which reaches down into your soul, digs out your pulmonary artery and tugs like a misbehaving Andrex puppy until you are close to tears.
The casting is superb. Ursula is without a doubt the sweetest most lovable character you would ever hope to have as your Florence Nightingale. Her sister Janet, though uptight and strict, is rather more of a Mentos Mint character: hard on the outside and soft on the inside. Their sibling rivalry is spot on with their housemaid Dorkas (Maxine Evans) providing much mirth with her down-to-earth, no-fuss, tell-it-like-it-is attitude. Andrea is the perfect patient, and once you add in the characters of the lonely widower Dr Mead (William Oxborrow) and Olga with her wicked witch/evil stepmother vibes, you have an excellent line-up for this play which will make you question the truth behind: if you love someone can you really set them free?
Running July 12th – July 16th at The McGrigor Hall, Frinton-on-sea. https://www.frintonsummertheatre.org/
Reviewer: Samantha Collett
Reviewed: 12th July 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★