Based on the original screenplay by Charles Dance, Ladies in Lavender tells the story of two aging sisters whose quiet lives of cocoa before bedtime and unravelling balls of wool is transformed by the discovery of an unconscious young man washed up on the coast of Cornwall. Despite being adapted from a film, this play stands up simply as a credible piece of drama with the overarching plot line being peppered with moments of hilarity and warmth.
The sisters themselves are beautifully played by Hayley Mills and Belinda Lang. As the elder and more grounded sister Janet, Lang demonstrates excellent comic timing without ever becoming pantomimic, while Mills gives a fine performance as her more naïve and vulnerable sister Ursula. Robin Lefevre’s subtle direction means that they never seem like clichéd old biddies and the audience can see that these ladies still have a desire that hasn’t dwindled with age.
Robert Rees rises to the challenge of playing the Polish castaway Andreas and it is easy to see why Ursula falls for his vivacity (not to mention his smouldering good looks!) Impressively he manages to charm the audience while speaking in Andrea’s native Polish. Credit must be given to Majella Hurley whose dialect coaching means that both Rees’ and Abigail Thaw’s Polish and Russian accents are spot on. As foreigners in a small town the pair ooze sexiness and impulsiveness which jars perfectly against the quiet, reserved nature of the Cornish locals.
The design team have been faced with a mighty challenge – creating a garden, drawing room, bedroom and seafront cliffs on stage is no easy task. Thankfully, they not only accepted the challenge but stomped all over it. Liz Ascroft’s interlocking set is complemented by John Leonard’s clever use of sound and Mick Hughes’ lighting. Hughes thereby externalizes Ursula’s loneliness for which Mills’ performance creates a delicate portrait of wasted love.
Although this production isn’t ground-breaking or explosive, its tenderness and fragility are lovely to watch.