With new Artistic Director Jonathan Church in charge, Chichester Festival Theatre’s summer season is off to a splendid start with a new play by Richard Everett and starring Penelope Keith – a name to guarantee a full house.
There is no theme to this season (last year was Con-art) giving plenty of unrestricted scope for variety, and they have certainly chosen an eclectic mix of old and new, from Charles Dickens to David Hare, with a little Noel Coward thrown in for good measure; not to mention the well-loved musical Carousel and a promenade production of Grimm Fairy Tales performed by the Youth Theatre.
This tale is one of grief, regret, lack of communication within a family and buried secrets surfacing too late; but with Keith’s exquisitely timed performance and expert delivery the laughter constantly bubbles to the surface, giving full value to Everett’s witty, perceptive and very funny script.
Paul Farnsworth’s set is amazing (his many and varied designs have graced numerous stages of late), a vicarage with a very realistic garden in which a stream bubbles beneath the weeping willow trees and someone is actually cutting the grass with a lawnmower, the thrust stage lending itself perfectly to the arrangement.
Keith is the vicar’s widow, Grace, contemplating her life of devotion to duty while the new vicar and her husband examine their new home. Grace’s eccentric missionary sister has arrived from Africa to support her in her hour of need, but during the sisterly bickering, recalling resentments from childhood, Grace reveals that she has a thirty year old son… by her sister’s husband!
Polly Adams is sister Ruth, down to earth and sensible, and the new and caring vicar is her real life daughter Caroline Harker, whose husband in the play (Michael Lumsden) is attempting to have a permanent relationship with Grace’s daughter, Jo (Abigail Thaw – daughter of John).
The sixth member of this excellent cast is Benjamin Whitrow as Bardolph, who my have passed on, but that doesn’t stop Grace constantly talking to him as she paces restlessly around the garden – the anxiety of her family.