SIDMOUTH – SIDMOUTH SUMMER PLAY FESTIVAL
MANOR PAVILION THEATRE
WIFE BEGINS AT FORTY
2 hours 10 minutes – 1 interval
Manor Pavilion Theatre Box Office – 01395 514413
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 6 JULY 2019
The English writer Ray Cooney began his theatrical career acting in the famous ‘Whitehall Farces’ in the 1950s and 1960s and developed his own work as a writer in that genre. ‘Wife Begins at 40’ had its first performance in 1985 and was a collaboration with American comedy duo Arne Sultan and Earl Barret.
Comedy writing is very often of it’s time and doesn’t necessarily age well through the years, thus jokes about drinking and driving, vasectomies and clandestine coupling on a canal boat are probably not on the list of plot points of writers these days. That said, visual comedy often has a longer life and when done well can be a joy to behold.
The play tells of George who believes he has a happy marriage until Linda, his wife of 17 years, tells him she wishes to leave him. Sex appears to be a bit of an issue – the lack of it and passion for it. Taking rather dubious advice, George has a vasectomy, in the belief it will help him win back his wife…..
This is more a comedy play with farcical elements than an out and out farce and director Stuart Burrows has played it by the book – this is not a play to try and update and be fancy with. The experienced cast members know exactly how to make the most of the faintly ludicrous plot and corny lines and they do it with tongue firmly lodged in cheek.
Alec Fellows-Bennett has something of a field day as the hapless George whilst Sally Lofthouse gives a strong and purposeful performance as the freedom-seeking Linda. The two need to work well together in order to achieve the plunge into farce at the end of the play and they throw themselves into it with gusto.
James Pellow, as George’s ex-RAF Father, has the very best of the lines. Popping up here and there, he issues bon-mots and philosophical quips which he delivers deadpan and with perfect timing. As George and Linda’s son Leonard, Owen Landon, impressively gets away with being a teenager and goes all out for his song and dance number – not quite Tom Cruise in ‘Risky Business’ but along those lines.
Good support comes from Jeremy Todd as the philandering neighbour Roger and Bridget Lambert as his wife.
The living room set by Andrew Beckett was solid and functional and very much looked the part as did the ‘period’ furniture and props. ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ by Kiki Dee and Elton John was one of the suitably chosen pieces of music which punctuated the production.
Although the play itself was not one I especially liked, I can appreciate that there is still an appetite for its like in some places and that is a good enough reason for producing it. The night I was there, the audience were having a very good time. Without an excellent ensemble cast and production values, this play might not see the light of day too often.
A very good production of a rather dated comedy.
BERNARD HARPER – JAMES PELLOW
GEORGE HARPER – ALEC FELLOWS-BENNETT
LINDA HARPER – SALLY LOFTHOUSE
ROGER DIXON – JEREMY TODD
BETTY DIXON – BRIDGET LAMBERT
LEONARD HARPER – OWEN LANDON
WRITERS – ARNE SULTAN, EARL BARRET & RAY COONEY
DIRECTOR – STUART BURROWS
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – STAGE TECHNICAL SERVICES LTD.
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
SEASON PRODUCERS – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS, STUART BURROWS, JONNY CLINES