Set in Cornwall in 1936, against the backdrop of the turbulent years between the two World Wars, the lives of spinster sisters Ursula Wittington (Christine Bland) and Janet Wittington (Louise Price) were beautifully brought to life tonight by Hall Green Little Theatre in their well crafted production of Ladies in Lavender.
The story tells of the hum drum lives of the two sisters (cocoa, scones and knitting feature as highlights of their lives) which is duly transformed by the arrival of Andrea, a young Polish man played by Matt Ludlam, who is washed up on the beach in front of their house after a storm. It turns out that he is a gifted violinist, and when he subsequently meets Olga Daniloff, who has also arrived in the picturesque Cornwall village where the action takes place to perfect her artistic skills, he is taken to London by Olga to meet her brother Boris Daniloff, who is a violin virtuoso. The story ends with Andrea performing in a concert in London.
The tale is simple and it is this simplicity which allows it to delve dexterously and cleverly into the human relationships playing out in the 1936 Cornwall village. Christine Bland and Louise Price, sisters in real life, brought the problematic and fraught nature of two ageing siblings living with each other 365 days a year to life brilliantly as they in turn needled and comforted each other. They portrayed with surety the strong bond between them, as they alternately sparred and sympathised with each other over various matters such as Janet's betrothed dying in the First World War and the baking of an unusual pie containing pilchards and hard boiled eggs.
Ursula falls ridiculously hard for the young violinist, played with real confidence and assurance by Matt Ludlam, and the ludicrous nature of her school girl crush is brought to life when a 'rival', in the shape of artist Olga Daniloff, appears. Played with excellent precision and good characterisation by Rachael Louise Pickard, the foreign artist attracts the attentions of both the young violinist and the local widowed Doctor Mead, played with conviction by Andrew Cooley. He, like Ursula, falls for the 'wrong person', this time in the shape of Olga, and his embarrassed and ultimately doomed pursuance of the attractive young woman was put across with authenticity. His awkwardness at her rejection was felt by all the audience.
Some light moments were introduced with genuine assurance and comic timing by Mary Ruane who played the role of the part time helper of the Wittington sisters, Mrs Dorcas. She entertained the audience with her constant plying of all the characters with a succession of baking triumphs, such as cherry scones and plum cake, and appeared to have a crush on Doctor Mead, which only heightened her determination to feed him continually with her home made delights.
The uncomplicated set enhanced the play beautifully; the sisters' old fashioned home was authentic and offset well by the part of the set which represented the garden and open space looking out to the sea. The fact that there were no scene changes really aided the slickness and seamless moving on of the story between the Acts.
Massive congratulations have to go to the Director, Jean Wilde, who clearly had a vision for the play which worked perfectly. She produced a show of quality with a very small cast and the whole audience really felt drawn into the story and into the lives of the various characters by the high standard of acting and convincing characterisation by all on stage.
The props, lighting and back stage crew all contributed splendidly to the successful execution of this gentle, delicate story and the only downside were the empty seats in the auditorium. As this play runs until 27 May, there is no reason not to help change that by grabbing some tickets and to looking forward to being right royally entertained.
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