Based on Laurie Lee’s seminal novel, the Cheltenham Everyman production of Cider with Rosie attempts to capture the innocent spirit of a childhood spent in a tight-knit community in the Cotswolds just after the turn of the 20th century. However this production fails to translate the rural warmth Lee so famously illustrated in his novel and leaves the audience cold, and at times, restless.
Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith’s bleached wood set is charmless and fails to invoke the warmth of a loving family home, which makes the actor’s jobs that much harder. Although a gauze with a violin cut out adds interesting texture, instead of utilising Michael E Hall’s lighting design to its best advantage the setting instead relies upon quick fixes – such as white sheets to symbolise snow – rather than engaging the audience’s imagination.
The ensemble cast certainly give energetic performances and Nicola Sangster and Madeleine MacMahon’s brief moments as two feuding old ladies adds a nice comic flair to the evening. But this is all too brief and Paul Milton’s direction doesn’t set up each of the characters as individuals and so the cast blur into one mass.
Susie Blake gives a fine performance as Laurie Lee’s mother, radiating love and affection without ever becoming sickly sweet. As her character ages Blake draws out the audience’s sympathy towards the vivacious matriarch slowly being eroded by dementia and there are some touching moments in the second act.
Ultimately Nick Darke’s script doesn’t drive the action forward with leaves the show lacking tension and drama. One of the reasons Cider with Rosie was such as successful novel was because of its beautifully crafted descriptions of rural life, but in this adaptation they become cumbersome. Although there are a few stand-out performances, this show is not one to write home about.