The Orange Tree has unearthed yet another fascinating curio in Daphne Du Maurier’s war-time play of a readjusted marriage. The Years Between are those dividing 1942 and 1945, during which period Colonel Michael Wentworth, a writer and Conservative MP for a Hertfordshire constituency, goes missing, presumed dead, in action.
His wife, Diana (Karen Ascoe), assumes her husband’s political career, enters Parliament, and develops a deep friendship with, and indeed reliance on, a neighbouring farmer, Richard Llewellyn (Michael Lumsden), not least because he has become such an effective surrogate father to her young son Robin (Oscar Addis at the performance I saw; the role is shared with Dominic Chelsom and Tristan Pegg).
When Michael (Mark Tandy) returns – he has been engaged in under-cover intelligence work in Occupied Europe, not held in a Prisoner of War camp as in the 1945 movie starring Michael Redgrave and Valerie Hobson – Diana has to make a series of significant emotional and professional decisions. She has become a popular local figure, and a prime mover of educational and housing bills in the Commons.
The marriage is exposed as built on shaky foundations anyway. And like so many women, Diana has to choose between duty and freedom, civic and personal responsibility. Caroline Smith’s affectionate and detailed production catches this atmosphere of quiet despair to perfection, even if some of the dialogue is a bit creaky.
Sam Dowson’s design of the library in the Old Manor House more or less includes the audience among its furnishings of book-cases, button sofas, wireless cabinet and card table, with a large Persian carpet covering the floor. Du Maurier admitted that the two main strands of the play – Diana’s emotional dilemma, and the “missing” MP replaced by his wife – were directly drawn from her own experience, the first element reflecting her own ambivalent marriage to a secretive war hero.
The authenticity of the play ensures that it also reflects that period in our nation’s history when British citizens were never sure of the fate of their loved ones in the armed forces and that strange process of adjustment once (and if) they returned. Michael says “there will be no sitting back for our generation” as society shifts its attention to the future.
A good story is graced not only by the sincerity of Ascoe and Tandy in the main roles, but also by the deft expertise of Timothy Carlton as a Tory grandee and Gabrielle Lloyd as the loyal and devoted Nanny.
- Michael Coveney