Time of my Life

Date 27th January 2020
Society Retford Little Theatre
Venue Retford Little Theatre
Type of Production Play
Director Alan Mitchell

Report

Author: Andrew Key

When we are thinking of putting on a play that premiered in 1992 its tempting to think that this will be a modern, up to date piece of writing. After all, 1992 is SO recent isn’t it. Then we realise that its nearly 30 years ago. Today’s schoolchildren would, I’m sure, class that as ‘modern history.’ So, looking at it in this new light, a script can get dated and stale in 30 years (we’ve all read some of those over the years). But the good thing about Alan Ayckbourn, and this play, is that it is still as relevant as ever it was. The family tensions that are played out in ‘Time of My Life’ apply just as much to twenty first century families as ever they did. So this was an excellent choice for Retford Little Theatre.

There are some things of course that seem simply horrific today – not least of all the cavalier attitudes of Gerry and by association, Laura, to drink driving, that of course play out to fatal consequences. And I’m sure Adam’s outburst to his mother would have been all the more shocking then. These days we’re used to such things, and so much more on our stages and TV screens. Glyn did make some topical references to ‘three million unemployed and four hundred firms going bust every week’, so we were reminded too of the troubles of nineties Britain.

Retford Little Theatre presented this play in the round with the theatre totally reconfigured from my last recent visit. There really was nowhere to hide for the cast. A simple set of restaurant tables and chairs sufficed in setting the Italian restaurant scene. This was perfectly acceptable, the innocuous staging hiding a set design secret not revealed until just before the last scene. At that point the very efficient stage crew, under the direction of Maxine Goldstone rotated the top of the main table revealing fully laid table settings beneath. A masterstroke from the Tuesday gang of set builders that garnered a much deserved round of applause and avoided what could have been a protracted and distracting scene change. Well done Producer Alan Mitchell for this brilliant creative addition.

The clever writing of the play, alternating between the present, past and future was handled very well by the cast, aided by a great lighting design from Stephen Walker, very precisely illuminating the various tables in the restaurant at different times.

And so to the cast. Simon Warner had the task of playing the owner and the waiters of the restaurant single handed. And he did not disappoint. I loved the wig (more about the wigs later) and his very funny accent, ‘You breaka my heart, I cry all night,’ a typical riposte. And one of my favourites, ‘how longa you wanta me to wait, til she’s naked on the table?’ Moments of real farce and comedy from an accomplished actor. And well done for all those slick costume changes.

Laura and Gerry, played by Lesley and Robert Warburton were beautifully matched in these mammoth parts. Laura’s bitchiness increased as her alcohol intake did and truths were revealed that had lay hidden for so long. Her one liners were brilliantly delivered, with just the right timing for maximum effect, including ‘Glyn’s got the imagination of a coat hanger’ and perhaps best of all, ‘it wasn’t dark at all, it was lunchtime’. There were moments when we saw through Laura’s hard exterior that Lesley really brought out, ‘You were dangerous, so dangerous,’ ‘is there a logical reason why parents should love their children’ and ‘you wouldn’t even let me have a dog.’ Well done Laura I loved your performance. And also Robert as Gerry, the erstwhile ‘King of the Teds’, his realisation that his wife’s brief encounter was with his own brother was very well done. This play was in very safe hands with these two actors.

Their son Adam, Laura’s favourite, was played by seventeen year old Jake Barraclough. Jake demonstrated a confidence and stage presence  beyond his years. He was so right for the part with very clear diction throughout.  I loved the tender engagement scene and the muddle of the wrong assumptions at his and Maureen’s earlier meetings. When he stood up to his mother it was clearly a big thing for him to have done. We believed in Adam. Congratulations to Jake and to Myeisha Wilkinson as Maureen, the hairdresser who ‘only has three books.’ Her changes of wigs were inspired as we moved back through the preceding months, exploring her and Adam’s relationship. She really did try to impress Laura with disastrous results of course. ‘I can’t keep up with your family,’ Adam said. And we could understand why as she delivered a wonderful tirade about them.

And so to the final pairing, with Samuel Howe as Glyn and Lizzie Brookes as Stephanie. There’s was a troubled relationship, played out through the years of the play. There were moments of real drama, ‘I’m pregnant, that’s shut you up hasn’t it, she says. As Laura said of Steph, ‘she toys with her food, she sips at her drink and she picks at her men.’ Lizzie showed us real emotion with this part, until at the end of the play she was the more confident one, with the erstwhile Glyn on his uppers. Glyn meanwhile, such a rat, who’s ‘never had any trouble meeting girls. A sitting target for every tart in the district,’ as his mother observes, was more than just simply a straying husband. Samuel successfully showed us how all he wants from his Mum is the approval he never gets. And of course he never would. Real pathos in this aspect of his character, well done Samuel for bringing this out.

This play is composed mainly of people sitting at tables talking, so any movement on stage comes as a welcome change. And there were some very good movements incorporated in the direction. Perhaps the seating at the subsidiary tables could have been alternated a little, so that a character who had been sitting with their back to part of the audience at the main family table was not in the same position at one of the smaller tables, thereby preventing some parts of the audience from seeing their faces other than glancingly.

Being in the round though did bring us the audience, much closer to the action and right into the restaurant. We could have been sitting at adjacent tables. It worked really well.

As we hear at the end of the play, ‘there are moments in life you can say are happy moments.’  This production was certainly one of those. ‘Happy Times’ indeed.

Well done to Producer Alan Mitchell for bringing us a true gem of a play for the darkest winter nights. I loved it.

Andrew Key