Ladies in Lavender, Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth, until November 11
To give this production the credit it deserves, we have to jump immediately to the start of the second act.
The moment the stage lights go up again, the piece is transformed into a thoughtful, moving and gently probing examination of emotional fragility and the heartache of unrequited love.
Its power is developed through two fine central performances which are from this point enabled to truly flourish.
Geraldine Cousin brilliantly blends the superficial naivety of elderly spinster Ursula with a gradual yet remorseless yearning for emotions past and lost opportunities. She is matched by Christine Carpenter’s sensitive portrayal of her sister Janet, the steadying force in their present lives, outwardly practical but inwardly suffering her own sense of loss.
The pair’s home environment of concerts on the radio, knitting patterns and sugar in the cocoa is enhanced by an extraordinary set design by John Ellam which accommodates lounge, upstairs bedroom, garden and a hint of seafront, and rightly (if inevitably) hints at the darker claustrophobia of their lifestyle.
Writer Shaun McKenna’s adaptation of the film screenplay cleverly toys with frustrated relationships, contrasting Ursula’s growing attachment for the young Polish musician who is washed up on their beach with the stuttering and unsuccessful approaches of the local doctor to a visiting woman artist.
Talisman newcomer Guy Devine gives an eye-catching performance as the amiable and free-wheeling young man and Leigh Walker brings a cool charm to the enigmatic artist. John Francis as the doctor and Teresa Robertson as the sharp-tongued housekeeper provide effective light relief.
Under David Draper’s sympathetic direction, the depths of the play are neatly explored. But in some areas the writing is distinctly weak.
While setting out to draw parallels with the children’s story The Little Mermaid, it resorts to passages being read out at far too great a length, thereby stultifying the progress of the drama.
And the first act itself is so ponderously written that the resurgence after the interval is like a massive breath of sea air.
That’s when the production finally comes into its own.
PHOTO by Pete Weston of Janet (Christine Carpenter), Ursula (Geraldine Cousin) and Andrea (Guy Devine)