Aa obscure short story from 1916, made into a quiet little British film by Charles Dance in 2004, was never likely to make for an evening of intense drama and high emotion.
It’s a small tale, about two spinster sisters who find a half-drowned young foreigner washed up on the beach near their clifftop home in Cornwall, then proceed to squabble over him like lovesick girls.
Nothing much happens, there’s no big climax and precious little in the way of character development. Yet it’s all done rather prettily, as it was in the film with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith.
In this new stage version, adapted by Shaun McKenna, their roles are taken respectively by Hayley Mills and Belinda Lang, and the gentle wistfulness of their playing lends the production much of its English charm. There’s good support, too, from Robert Duncan as the doctor who treats Robert Rees’s mysterious newcomer and Abigail Thaw as the visiting Russian artist who throws the spinsters’ hopes into confusion. Carol Macready offers additional light relief as the housekeeper Dorcas, who is given most of the best lines in McKenna’s rather routine, pedestrian script.
Liz Ascroft’s set, divided into four playing areas on varying levels, is beautifully dressed and should be clever and versatile. Instead, however, it ends up being cramped and cluttered, leaving director Robin Lefevre to force his poor actors into awkward spaces and positions. The result is some appalling sightlines and blocking that would look hideously unprofessional even on an amateur stage, and it’s something that really should be sorted out before this “Made in Northampton” branded product goes on tour.
That aside, together with the overall lack of excitement from the meandering pleasantness of the whole thing, it’s a perfectly acceptable and accessible little piece of lightweight, untaxing entertainment.