Wife After Death

Date 31st March 2022
Society Retford Little Theatre
Venue Retford Little Theatre
Type of Production Play
Director Keri Duffy
Producer Keri Duffy
Written By Eric Chappell


Author: Jules Jones

The audience rocked with laughter at The Little Retford Theatre, a treat on a cold wintery evening. Keri Duffy had poured love and attention into every detail of her production, with the masterful embellishment of both set, directions, and props.

Wife After Death - Dave Thursby, national treasure, and comedian has his funeral today, and family, friends, and colleagues are due to pay their last respects. What changes will be made to these relationships after the revelations from members of the funeral congregation?  His wife, his agent, and his best friend are all in for a shock.

The players gave admirable performances, Nigel Winfield as Harvey was dry, comical, had excellent timing and his facial expressions were hilarious when needed.  His frenetic energy back and forth to the drinks cabinet, his twitching, and his reaction to happenings onstage really described the personality he was portraying. I was in awe when I was told he had never acted on a stage before.  Liz Rew who played his wife Vi, was a calm, demure counterpoint to Harvey’s character.  Liz was assured, poised, and played Vi with wonderful comic timing and silent reactions in her virtuoso performance.  This pair demonstrated good chemistry with excellent characterisation of an endearing or perhaps enduring, married couple.  Liz’s retreat around the sofa after certain revelations was hilarious.  The audience cottoned on way before her husband did, brilliant.

Kevin, his agent, played by Sam Howe and Kevin's wife Jane played the night I reviewed by Rowan Haughton, were a complicated couple.  The parts demanded subtle handling, and both did very well.  I particularly liked Kevins’s attitude to witnessing the body, his overreaction to finding out about his wife’s affair, and finally his hurt demeanour in the final stages of the play.  Rowan, a special note to you, well done for taking on all the hard work of learning the part only to do one night. Well done, you played her well and I couldn’t tell that for you it was the first night. I hope you and Sarah Eakin who played the role on other nights could compare notes.  A believable performance, sensitivity played.

Sarah Brumby played the late lamented Dave’s wife Laura.  Her posturing and pretentious behaviour clearly showed through in the early parts of the play and her reactions to the comedy moments were brilliant.  Keeping a straight face when the whole audience was laughing was achieved with ease.  I felt Sarah played Laura with gentleness and kindness which was a lovely attitude, especially apt as at the end of the play she is able to console herself with a new friendship with Kay, Dave’s ex.  She had the audience's sympathies which I felt was slightly different from other productions I have seen, well done. 

Kay was played with strength and brightness by Kelly Whitton.  Her confident performance was a joy.  The stage lit up when she entered and all the character’s reactions to her were absorbed and redirected with a clever wit and agile body language.  A very clever use of reaction and attitude, very well done.

I was pleased to see a really well-thought-out, embellished set.  Keri allowed me to see the set close up and although I had noted some items on the stage including pictures of famous faces like Morecambe and Wise, I was thrilled to see the music score on the piano was the music played at the beginning of the play, the pictures scattered around included family and pets of the cast and crew, the 1980’s décor achieved by the sponge effect wallpaper and highlighted by a quite over the top edging.  A well designed set, which included French doors, and garden area upstage left, a large imposing drinks cabinet downstage left, sofa, chairs centre, and piano downstage right.  Through direction, Keri managed the flow of the room with no awkward pinch points or obvious gaps. All in gold and maroon tones.  Keri had borrowed furniture and potted plants and other props from local people and businesses, all carefully mentioned and thanked in the program.

In fact, that was my only disappointment.  The program contained no mention of NODA at all.  There is a prestigious competition run by the East Midlands NODA Region and I would have loved to put yours forward in the competition.  Yet, because you had not included all the elements required, elements that would improve your program, promote your society, enhance your production, and impress your sponsors and potential advertisers, I could not.  If you would like to be included in the next competition please check out our website for more information and suggestions. https://www.noda.org.uk/download/181/2022-2024-competition-details  

Eric Chappell, renowned writer of over 20 plays and many TV sitcoms including Home to Roost, Only When I Laugh, Rising Damp, Duty Free, and Single.  I have always felt that many of his characters and situations are disparaging to women.  From our 2022 perspective particularly after the ‘me too’ campaign and society's changing opinions on domestic abuse and sexual harassment, this play may not sit well.  It was interesting to note the audience’s intake of breath and possible opposing view to some of the characters on stage banter.  An audience in 2022 will react differently to an audience in 1980, an interesting discussion point but should we shy away from comedies of this nature? Certainly, Keri Duffy and her team have made a success of this play, at this time. But then they have tackled other hard-hitting productions including Bothered and Bewildered a comedy-drama about one woman's struggle with Alzheimer's by Gail Young.  I think Keri could do well to continue this theme if handled sensitively. I hope to see Keri develop on this point over the next few seasons.

Well done all and thank you for your warm welcome.