A splendid delivery, ladies, but that last shot belongs in the ditch
Keeping Our End Up, Loft Theatre, Leamington, until April 13
Picture the scene. A dowdy sports club pavilion in which the very air is tinged with feelings of failure. Are we talking lacklustre village cricket? Or love-all local tennis, perhaps? The last image to mind could well be women’s bowling. Too insignificant, you say? Think again. The ladies we meet here are on a long losing streak and see themselves as remnants of glories long past. But theirs is a far more important role – together this fabulous five make up a microcosm of the world of women. To add to the sheer impudence of it all, the writer of this heady slice of female fortitude is a man, no less. Warwickshire playwright Mark Carey pitches boldly across the green to delve into the minds and manoeuvres of his mixed-up protagonists. And a generally delightful job he makes of it, with the Loft providing the stage for the play’s premiere production. The women’s problems are instantly recognisable. With the season finale approaching and the likelihood of yet another drubbing by their dreaded all-conquering rivals, team captain Ronnie just isn’t very good, Ursula and Fiona have husband troubles, Joan outrageously stirs trouble, and Jan obsessively stirs tea. It all brews up into an outline of the very fabric of village life and relationships, with moments of striking honesty, sad revelation and richly comic absurdity. Michael Rolfe’s smart direction ensures fine performances all round, with just a few lapses in vocal projection. Wendy Morris is a wickedly funny Joan, devolving with flair into unashamed drunkenness and providing a perfect foil for Sue Moore’s priggish and patronising Ronnie. The five players inter-act with considerable style on a Richard Moore-designed set which positively radiates an image of old-fashioned values lost, when even morris-dancers are dying off. It’s astutely written and highly entertaining, and soundtrack songs by the late great Matt Monro are extremely effective. But the script wobbles into some over-statement towards the end. And please, Mr Author and Mr Director, dispense with the final curtain sing-along. This is pure amateur panto which the rest just doesn’t deserve.