Ernest Thompson’s On Golden Pond is set on a lakeside in Maine, USA during the late 1970s and is best known because of the award-winning film version. However, for Richard Johnson’s performance alone, this current tour deserves to have the “House Full” signs up at every performance.
Retired Norman Thayer Jnr’s (Johnson) can afford to live a comfortable lifestyle, with a summer residence in Maine, which his wife and daughter have benefitted from, but in return they and everyone around has to accept the barbed heartless comments he often dishes out. His wife, Ethel, has learnt to cope but his daughter left home, her life away has included a short lived marriage and a series of relationships. But everyone else he comes in to contact has to accept that Norman is just being Norman, but underneath we recognise that his mind is becoming affected by age. But as he is reaches eighty, his health is deteriorating rapidly and Chelsea is returning home once more, with added complications to her love life.
Richard Johnson captures the very essence of Norman, his sharp tongue balanced by being unable to attempt simple tasks, like repairing the screen door, as he becomes frail. Johnson remains the centre of attention at all times, but never takes over, ensuring the necessary balance remains between all characters. But you cannot help but watch his every move
However it is Hollywood actress Stefanie Powers performance as Ethel, the wife trying to maintain her own survival which is unsettling. For reasons probably known only to her and the Director Michael Lunney, who also designed the atmospheric set, she plays the role as Katherine Hepburn. While Hepburn was magnificent in the film, there is plenty of scope for Miss Powers to develop Ethel into her own character, rather than appear to be Hepburn, being Ethel. There is no doubting if Hollywood requires an actress to play Hepburn in her later life, Miss Powers should get the part. But I found it unsettling, especially during Act One, to hear Hepburn’s unmistakable tones drift over the footlights, which spoilt my concentration of the play.
But overall this tour of On Golden Pond is true piece of theatre, with a great cast, that needs to be seen during its all too brief tour.