The Anniversary

Date 8th April 2022
Society Leighton Buzzard Drama Group
Venue Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre
Type of Production Play
Director Ann Kempster
Written By Bill Macllwraith

Report

Author: Richard Fitt

LBDG always pick a slightly left field, often quirky play for their spring production and this year they chose to put on Bill Macllwraith’s dark comedy, The Anniversary. And wow, I think I’ve just met the mother from hell!

This comedy of family power-play is set in South London in 1966. Tom brings his pregnant fiancée Shirley home for the annual wedding-anniversary ritual orchestrated by his widowed, scalpel-tongued, deviously possessive mother. Of Tom's brothers and co-workers in the (shoddy) family building business, Terry is a weakling, trying to get up the nerve to announce his imminent emigration to Canada just to get away from Mum, and Henry is a considerate, nice guy who just happens also to be a compulsive transvestite. Tom hasn't mentioned Shirley to Mum yet either. Mum's arsenal of bitchy comments and Machiavellian stratagems is a creation of darkly glittering and consistently funny beauty. This is a case of jealous mothering as a black art. Tom is determined to have a least one win against his mother and Terry’s wife Karen is equally determined to go to Canada despite Mum’s opposition.

The set for this was a work of 60’s art in its own right. Those of us of a certain age will remember the sixties garish decorative colours, of which orange was probably the most popular, and set designers Mike Ward and Colin Dalamore certainly either remembered, or did their homework to recreate a perfect lounge of that period. The boxset walls were either painted orange or covered in a basic orange and black patterned wallpaper which left us in no doubt as in which era we were supposed to be.  The overall effect was of a fairly opulent house, appropriate to one that belonged to a family of builders, albeit of dubious professional competence. Exits were one central door to the rear and a set of French doors into the garden stage left.  Furniture was a sofa centre stage, various armchairs and a trophy cabinet of questionable taste objects to denote the family memorabilia. Apart from one dodgy moment when a flat wobbled when the curtains wouldn’t close correctly all worked well. When you take into account everything has to be brought up two flights of stairs, LBDG certainly build very professional sets, and this was no exception.

Lighting and sound by Tom Davies and Dave Miles gave an appropriate wash to the set and what a pleasure to be hearing real projected human voices rather than the modern fad of micing up performers, even for dramas!

Wardrobe mistress Sheena Ward had obviously been digging around in the historical wardrobe and came up with some very appropriate 60’s clothing and when Shirley comes through the door to open the first act dressed in mini skirt, white platform boots and headband we were right back there, the scene was set.

Rory Wolstenholme as the youngest son, Tom was the one determined to get one over on Mum and for once in his life score one over her. This he did very well and his on the surface determination hid the lack of underlying confidence, which told us deep down he didn’t believe it himself despite his bravado to the contrary all the sweeter when he finally got his way.

Lobke van Eijk as Shirley, Tom’s fiancée starts off as a slightly apprehensive character as you would be meeting your future mother in law for the first time, shy but during the course of events she gathers increasing confidence until at the end with her laying down the law with Tom you couldn’t help thinking, is she going to turn into her mother-in-law as the years go by? Nice performance.

Henry, the older brother played by Jason Neale is the nice guy of the family, thoroughly put upon and willing to help anybody, except of course being a transvestite he does have a bit of a problem with woman’s clothing, which it turns out his mother is quite prepared to weaponise to her own ends.

Terry Simon Theodorou played this weak character, desperate to get away from his all controlling mother rather well as he was torn between the two woman in his life.

Jo Taylor as Karen, was the most spirited but also the most exasperated character in the play, quite determined to take on Mum and get her family to Canada despite her husband failing to stand up to his mother. Some of best scenes were the sparing between the two women. High quality stuff!

And finally, the tour-de-force that is ‘Mum,’ absolutely superbly played by Barbara Springthorpe. This is one evil, self-centred, selfish woman, with dubious business morals, a tongue so sharp it would make a new razor look blunt, and by goodness did Barbara Springthorpe nail it. Given a script this powerful the stage is there to be dominated and she certainly took full advantage of that. She had the audience squirming in their seats at the audacity of the character! But she also very much played for the laughs, which we certainly needed, and we got in spades. It was a performance that will live long in the memory. Well done indeed. Brilliant! One has to ask though, why nobody hadn't murdered this woman years ago?

This is dark comedy indeed and Director Ann Kempster is to be congratulated for pulling it off. She had the audience both squirming uncomfortably in the seats and laughing their socks off with this perfect period piece. The pace did however drop in one or two places, and I did feel some of the reactions were a little static and understated at times, but in the main this was very well done indeed. This group not only do plays extremely well but choose really engaging scripts that always give you something you aren’t expecting, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

And finally, a big thank you to Mike Springthorpe, who took over from Barbara to look after us whilst his normally gentle wife was on stage turning into the mother from hell! Thanks Mike, good to meet you, your hospitality was most welcoming.