There’s something charming about a play promising “Sunshine and Wisteria” on a damp March evening. All the moreso when presented in the agreeably cosy confines of The Spring by the lovely folks from Humdrum. So, it was with much anticipation of a warm and relaxed evening that we headed off to let the enchantment begin.
The play, adapted from Elizabeth Von Arnim’s book written way back in 1922, opens in the dreary confines of London. The last dregs of winter are lashing the streets with rain and everything seems grey and miserable. Director Sam Sampson increases the sense of being closed in and maudlin by cutting off the stage’s depth, forcing his actors into cramped spaces and rushed movements before opening out the space for the sunny, relaxed atmosphere on the shore of the Mediterranean.
Lotty Wilton is something of a dreamer, an eternal optimist who claims to “see” things and who yearns to move beyond her humdrum (no pun intended) daily life. Chancing across an advertisement for a castle to rent in Northern Italy she approaches the buttoned down and straight laced Rose Arnott to share an adventure with her. The juxtaposition of Caz Gilmore’s wide eyed wonder as Lotty with Claire Stevens conservative Rose forms the centrepiece of the play and Gilmore particularly seems to relish the freedom of her role. Shocked by the cost of their plans they advertise for companions and are joined by the prickly and aloof Mrs Graves (a tour-de-force performance from Lin Warner) and Lady Caroline Bramble, the tabloid star of her day who longs to escape the grabbing hands of her many admirers. Gemma Valler’s Lady Caroline has a subtle but noticeable sorrow throughout and it is her character who ensures that for all the play’s bubbly happy themes it never crosses the line and becomes mawkish. The four ladies clearly have a ball working off each other and each brings their own idiosyncrasies and charm to their character.
In a play where the men are very much secondary characters Alistair Smyth, Peter Colley and James George all hold their own… indeed the audience may well witness a hitherto unseen side of Mr George!
A special nod too to Sue Bartlett as the much put upon Costanza who provides much of the light relief.
For a sunny, happy little play there is a haunting sense of loss and sadness that perfectly encapsulates the post-war era in which the book was was written. This isn’t a play that will shock, push boundaries or ever be cutting edge. It’s just enjoyable, warm and, for all its moments of sadness, a story about holding onto what we love… and shouldn’t that be enough?