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4th Jul, 2022

REVIEW: Ladies in Retirement

Malvern Editorial 15th Oct, 2014 Updated: 20th Oct, 2016

Ladies in Retirement by Edward Percy and Reginald Denham

Performed by Malvern Theatre Players at the Coach House Theatre and reviewed by Lee Farley.

Malvern Theatres resident amateur company, Malvern Theatre Players, are now in their 38th season. Their production of this little-known play from 1939 features impressive work from a cast and crew of locals. If you’re a theatre fan, I encourage you to go and support this excellent company’s work, starting here with this intriguing, dark and brilliantly performed thriller.

Ladies in Retirement is based on a real French murder case from 1886. In the Thames estuary, a retired actress and her housekeeper live in a cottage far removed from the temptations of London. The housekeeper invites her sisters to stay at the cottage, a mysterious nephew turns up and the remote tranquility is irrevocably disrupted.

This production creates tension and intensity from an ostensibly familiar theatre setting. A Victorian parlour is authentically presented in Chris Bassett’s design. This is a realistic play and details are important. Lighting is unobtrusive, candles are used effectively.

For any play to be convincing, the company must develop truthful characters, relationships and subtext. Gillian Young’s direction is crucial here, establishing control and discipline. She does a tremendous job, never allowing the performance to drift into melodrama. In quintessential the-show-must-go-on style, she also cameos at short notice as Sister Theresa.

The play is intricate, intriguing and less dated than some contemporary works. On one hand, it’s a fairly straightforward grand guignol thriller, but the text contains some diverting dialogue about morality, sin, religion, dependency and virtue. It’s not a polemic, but this is more complex than a pot-boiler. The Theatre Players fully explore these ideas, leaving the audience plenty to consider amongst the thrills and surprises of the plot.

The arguments of the play’s moral compass challenge the intellect, but we’re also treated to some genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moments which elicit gasps and nervous chuckles from the audience. This is a delicious treat in the theatre and in this accomplished production each moment is well handled and used intelligently.

An extremely strong cast bring subtlety and sensitivity to their performances. The dramatic coups de théâtre would not work without convincing characters and accurate timing. This crucial balance of technique and emotional veracity is not always easy for actors to get right, but all the cast here contribute energy and commitment to the task. Sue Lupton’s Ellen is a determined woman with a dark past – her performance is perceptive, acutely drawn and powerfully compelling. Christy Hedges expertly brings truthfulness and vulnerability to the shrewd maid Lucy. Riveting performances that absorb the Coach House audience into the foreboding world of Estuary House.

An intimate production of a well-structured play performed by a skillful company of locals. Ladies in Retirement is on until Saturday 18th at the Coach House. My recommendation is to get a ticket.



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