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Warwick Arts Centre review: Ladies of Letters

Ladies of Letters, Warwick Arts Centre, June 7-11.

by Barbara Goulden

What a tour-de-force by former Only Fools and Horses actors Gwyneth Strong and Tessa Peake-Jones as they step onto a high-tech stage to navigate a world that begins with them seeming completely out of step - sponge cake recipes and snide remarks...before moving on to middle-aged sex, public protests and an unflinching look at the LGBT community.

If you've ever seen or heard Alan Bennett's original Irene in his famous Lady of Letters monologue, then you will recognise how playwrights Lou Wakefield and Carole Hayman have picked up his theme and stretched it into hilarious new shapes. Perhaps beginning with a little Hyacinth Bucket (Bouquet) before shaking things up and ending with a lot more Bet Lynch.

First night audiences at the Arts Centre were in stitches as this freshly-minted Irene (Tessa Peake-Jones) and Vera (Gwyneth Strong) begin their correspondence - in defiance of email - reading aloud their delightful exchanges as these evolve from banal to boastful; from bewilderment to abandonment. But never without a good belly laugh along the way.

Does Vera really understand what a "threesome" is? And why does a sperm bank always make her think of a cash point?

Meanwhile Irene gets herself into all sorts of trouble with the law - rather like her original Bennett namesake. There's even a bit of Strictly Come Dancing. But not as you know it.

A curious but very funny mixture of past and present humour. Well worth a visit and great to see Warwick Arts Centre back up and running again.

Picture, above right, by Craig Fuller photography


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