LADIES IN RETIREMENT
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton,Tuesday 3rd June, 2014
Written in the 1940s and set in the 19th century, this play by Edward Percy and Reginald Denham tells of retired actress Leonora Fiske who shares her lonely marshland home with stony-faced housekeeper and confidante Ellen Creed (Erin Geraghty). The pair are glamorous chalk and drab and dour cheese but they rub along together nicely enough until Ellen arranges for her two aged and emotionally immature sisters for an extended visit. The old kooks are as tiresome to the audience as they are to Miss Fiske and so we understand why she wants rid of them and sharpish. Familial devotion gets the better of the housekeeper’s loyalty and a murder is committed. The second half of this over-long piece is concerned with bringing the murder to light.
It’s not without its moments. There are some amusing lines of dialogue and some members of the audience gasped audibly a number of times. It’s just that the play takes a long time to get where it’s going – and that’s not very far.
As faded chorine, Miss Fiske, Shirley Ann Field still cuts an elegant figure, speaking with her distinctive “lived-in” voice. Being the start of the tour, I expect the lines will settle in and the whole thing will pick up its pace. Erin Geraghty is suitably stern as the treacherous housekeeper, and Karen Ford and Sylvia Carson do a good job as the irritating old dears, little girls in old women’s bodies.
The show really comes to life whenever Lucy the maid (Melissa Clements) and cocky geezer Albert Feather (Christopher Hogben) are on stage. These two bring energy to their characters and their scenes, lifting us out of the doldrums.
Gradually, the drama takes hold but director Ian Dickens needs to do something about the handling of the murder that ends the first half. A quicker blackout would be more effective and I’m not sure about the pre-recorded, protracted scream as the curtain falls. Also, it is laughably obvious that the cast are not actually playing the on-stage piano; if it were angled differently, this could be masked to avoid our cringes and derision.
Ian Marston’s set adds to the atmosphere and period feel but this slow-burner needs an accelerant to ignite our interest earlier on. A big hit in its day, it may be time for Ladies in Retirement to be put out to grass.