Ladies of Importance

Date 14th October 2022
Society The Green Room Theatre, Wilmslow
Venue The Green Room Theatre, Wilmslow
Type of Production Play
Director John Chidgey and Celia Bonner
Written By Alan Bennett and Peter Harrison

Report

Author: Steph Niland

Part of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, a string of dramatic monologues originally written for TV and adapted for radio and stage, A Lady of Letters is a well-observed gentle comedy that deals with less-gentler topics and written in Bennett’s dry and amusing style.

It was pleasing to observe that this edition held the versions that have come before (Routledge and Staunton) in high regard. Praise to John Chidgey for moulding this piece to the Green Room space and truly relying on a character and text-driven rendition. Great care had been taken to break up the sections and pace the dialogue, so the audience hung on every witty word and with nowhere to hide the meaning and feeling had to be the champions.

This may be why Belinda Coghlan decided to hold her script throughout the performance – with Ladies of Importance replacing Hindle Wakes only weeks before, it would have been a major feat to get this monologue down in time. It was the correct choice, it was more important to put across the story with confidence and make the audience feel safe in the performance, than to perhaps fluff and break the illusion and to be frank, after feeling slightly taken aback at first, the presence of the script was forgotten in a wonderful interpretation of Irene by Belinda. She was so engaging with a comprehensive grasp on the style and comedy of Bennett. She completely held the audience’s attention throughout and navigated the timeline deftly. The change in character when Irene finds herself locked up was beautifully enacted and palpable. Although she was a curtain twitching, old-fashioned equivalent of a keyboard warrior who exasperated us with her petty wars and piousness, we were genuinely happy for her to feel so fulfilled and no longer in need of her busy body ways - which shows the actress and director had a firm grip on the themes and the content. Loneliness, mental health issues and empathy were all explored sensitively – well done!

The abstract setting and fade ins and outs and the carousel of activities on set (armchair and newspaper, coat rack, writing desk and teapot station) gave us time to reflect upon what had just happened and to digest the subtexts. The playing focus of the window and using the three-sided audience was also carried off with proficiency and was effective.

Lady Bracknell’s Return by Peter Harrison and directed by Celia Bonner was a fun and clever one act. A spinoff of The Importance of Being Earnest and based around the formidable, stern and fearsome character of Lady Bracknell.

In this play Lady Bracknell no longer can rely on her titled position or her standing in society, although she doesn’t seem to realise this and Val Middleton–Egan, played her with all the Victorian properness and the consequential bitterness that the upper class wallowed in. Val’s presence was powerful, and the delivery was arrogant and ruthless whilst remaining extremely proper and conservative. Well done. Although, with the wandering, which was a nice directorial choice and put the audience in mind of a floating ghoul, quieter shoes may have been in order. Small point but thought it good to note.

David Reynolds provides the faux-sophisticated and ingenuousness, of Marcus, the colourful estate agent, a delivery by virtue artlessly mannered and pompous. Some script hiccups but the experience and expertise of this actor meant that the energy did not drop. Well done.

Both Harry Garrity as Henry and Scarlett Newton as Vanessa were wonderfully natural in their character renderings, and both provided moments of real humour. Their modern delivery juxtaposed beautifully with Lady Bracknell’s Victorian stiffness.

There is no real message, it is just a fun piece and the manipulation between the two characters, Bracknell and Henry was like a great extract from a longer piece, where the bully gets their comeuppance. Lady Bracknell remained a vehicle of satire and the comedy came from her objections ending in potential ridicule again. Lovely wordplay was celebrated too. Congratulations.

Once again, a lovely evening of theatre at The Green Room Theatre. Thank you.