The Cemetery Club (tour - Eastbourne, Devonshire Park Theatre)
As those who remember the 1993 film version of Ivan Menchell’s bittersweet comedy will know, this is the story of Ida, Lucille and Doris – three New York widows who, once a month, get together and head to the cemetery to visit their husbands’ graves. On one such visit they meet local butcher, Sam, who is visiting the grave of his wife, and that just about sets the scene for the play.
Except that, while meeting for one of their regular visits they also find out that a dear friend, and serial wife, Selma, is to marry again and the three ladies have been asked to be bridesmaids. The two stories run parallel and, although not a constant laugh-out-loud comedy, a lot of gentle humour is found in both situations.
Shirley-Anne Field plays the very glamorous Lucille, who lost her husband 18 months ago and is now reaping the rewards of cashing in all his bonds. Each new item of mink, that she just loves to show off to her friends, comes with the catchphrase, “Guess how much!”.
Doris Anne Charleston, has an uncanny knack of answering that question a little too accurately for Lucille’s liking, and is the central character in the story, as it is four years ago today that her husband Abe passed away. Her visits to the cemetery each month are to tend the grave, while moaning about the people who she pays to do that job, and to fill her husband in on all the news he is missing.
The third woman, Ida, is played by Anita Harris who, if looks are anything to go by, has spent the last 20 years in a time bubble as she is more likely to pass for 50 than her real, somewhat higher, age. It is Ida who first suggests that maybe the time is right for the monthly routine to stop, and for them all to try and move on with their lives.
There are some truly heart-wrenching scenes in the play as each deals with their feelings of disloyalty at even considering a change to the routine with Sam Peter Ellis a key factor in those thoughts. There are also some wonderfully funny scenes, especially with the arrival of Sam’s new companion Mildred Debbie Norman and when the three ladies return home, drunk, from Selma’s wedding reception.
The sets for the play are a little dodgy, the New York Jewish accents wander a little at times and the off-stage sound effects are at best, amateur, but none of this matters as it is the three women who absolutely dominate the stage throughout and turn this difficult subject into a very enjoyable night out.