Search

Still life left in these Old Ladies

PUBLISHED: 16:04 17 December 2008 | UPDATED: 10:20 23 August 2010

THE works of Hugh Walpole have long since gone out fashion, but judging by a recent adaptation of his 1924 novel The Old Ladies, they may be ripe for reappraisal, writes Mark Campbell.

THE works of Hugh Walpole have long since gone out fashion, but judging by a recent adaptation of his 1924 novel The Old Ladies, they may be ripe for reappraisal, writes Mark Campbell.

Lucy, May and Agatha have rooms in an austere boarding house in a small cathedral town. May's extreme timidity is tempered by a violent repulsion towards Agatha, the curmudgeonly inhabitant of the upstairs bedroom.

As the more pragmatic of the three, Lucy tries to find some common ground, but her efforts are ultimately thwarted.

With its mix of intense psychological warfare and blackly comic dialogue, this 1935 adaptation by Rodney Ackland resembles a female version of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker.

Agatha is a hugely dominating presence, despite only infrequent appearances, while Lucy and May seem almost parasitically dependent on each other.

May's pathetic attempts to hold onto a precious locket bring her into direct confrontation with the overbearing Agatha, whose childlike insistence on taking it from her bring about the play's most dramatic moment.

According to the programme, the cast of three have 137 years of acting experience between them, having appeared in nearly 250 productions!

As Lucy, the "ordinary" one, Pauline Ellard's delivery needed more light and shade to fully convince, while her constant habit of staring into the middle-distance (as if recalling her lines) was rather off-putting.

Audrey Christianson, however, was wonderful as the henlike old biddy May, forever chuntering on about her childhood in Exeter and her devotion to her aforementioned trinket. Wistful, sad and ultimately tragic, it was a charming - and achingly sincere - performance.

For a long time, Margaret Penny as Agatha did nothing but sit motionless in her upstairs room - her presence both literally and metaphorically hovering over the other characters.

"I'm glad my child died," she says with relish when she finally appears, thus immediately marking her out as the villain of the piece. And mad with it.

Directed with commendable restraint by Shelley Peters, with Graham Peters designing an effective two-tier set, this was an extremely satisfying production that benefited from its unfamiliarity (to this reviewer at least).

The next production at Erith Playhouse is Dick Whittington by Mike Rand, from January 3-17. Tickets: 01322 350345.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Gravesend Reporter

Hot Jobs

Show Job Lists