The Darling Buds of May

Date 14th April 2018
Society Winton Players
Venue Festival Hall, Petersfield
Type of Production Comedy
Director Penny Young

Report

Author: Mark Donalds

How delightful to spend a warm spring evening being taken on a gentle stroll through the idyllic 1950s’ Kent countryside of H.E. Bates’ imagination, where the sun always shines and there are no problems that cannot be overcome.

It is always a dilemma when bringing to life characters that are already well known – do you imitate the much-loved actors or go your own way? This cast got the balance just right – making the characters their own but giving a strong enough flavour of their TV counterparts that we felt comfortable, and strong direction, good acting and great attention to detail characterised this enjoyable production.

Key to the play are Ma and Pop Larkin, beautifully portrayed by Sarah Dove and Simon Stanley, who obviously adore their family and each other, always eager to include others and phased by nothing. They both kept the pace of this fairly long play going well and brought out the gentle humour of the piece with ease. Sarah Dove was every inch the Ma Larkin of my imagination – open, warm, welcoming and jolly, without an iota of jealousy, and the way she busied herself in the kitchen, preparing meals and organising the children, added greatly to the realism of the whole play. Simon Stanley as Pop owned the stage from his first entrance and gave a warm and touching depiction of the cockney wide-boy who can make money out of almost anything and is loved by one and all. He was completely believable as the avuncular host, doling out cocktails from his musical drinks cabinet (a nice touch) and charming everyone, whatever their background.

Sarah Melville and Lawrence Cook were well paired as Mariette and Charley. She gave Mariette just the right amount of experience, while still retaining a degree of innocence, and he gave Charley just the perfect degree of awkwardness and naivety - always believable, although I felt his drunkenness – a difficult thing to get right - during their first evening was switched on a little suddenly.  Sue Port was spot on as the prim and proper Miss Pilchester, being loosened up nicely after kissing Pop.

Great praise must go to the younger members of the cast. Not only were they all very natural, but they maintained the action (eating their supper, watching TV etc.) extremely well even when the focus was elsewhere on stage.

As I have come to expect from this group, the set was stunning – dividing the stage into two areas, the Larkins’ kitchen and their garden, with an invisible wall in between. Both sides showed great attention to detail, with well-painted flats and perfectly chosen period furniture and props. Costumes too were spot on, accurately evoking that post-war period of austerity but with little touches of luxury that the Larkins liked. Well-designed lighting and excellent sound effects completed the picture.

Stage Manager Alan Bristow and his crew must be complimented for their very efficient changes of scene. I know from experience what a monumental challenge it is organising and moving such a large number of props, especially real food.

Many thanks to The Winton Players for taking us back to a slower and more tranquil time. It was a most welcome respite from our hectic 21st century lifestyle and there’s only one word I can use to sum up this great evening’s entertainment: Perfick!