Theatre Review: Ladies In Lavender at Royal & Derngate

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I WAS always put off watching the film version of Ladies in Lavender because I presumed it was one of those cosy dramas set in a small world where nothing much happens.

After watching the stage production of Charles Dance’s screenplay, which premiered at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton on Tuesday, I have not completely changed my mind – the play is set almost entirely in one house in an insular community – but their small world was certainly interesting.

We start Ladies in Lavender with Ursula Widdington (Hayley Mills) and Janet Widdington (Belinda Lang) having a discussion where Ursula audaciously suggests having a biscuit with their cocoa, only to be shot down by Janet, stating “oh no, not on a weeknight”.

The role of routine and ritual in the two elderly sisters’ lives in a close-knit village in Cornwall, in 1936 is made abundantly clear.

But it is not long before their cosy lives are disrupted when a talented young Polish-Jewish violinist, bound for America, is washed ashore near their home.

The Widdington sisters enthusiastically nurse him back to health, but as they do so, we watch as Ursula forms a deeper and deeper attachment to him.

Mills is stunning as Ursula, imbuing her with a girlish youth, which makes her unrequited feelings ever poignant and never slips into the inappropriate or ridiculous.

As is Belinda Lang, who is equally touching as the abrupt Janet, who hints her love life has been as equally unfulfilling and her life also scarred by disappointment.

This said, the play is not all filled with pathos.

For the most part it delivers perfect comic timing and hilarious lines, with Carol Macready, as Dorcas, particularly adept at this, and the acting in general being excellent.

And it is perhaps because you spend so much time laughing for the majority of the play that makes its inevitable ending so poignant.

The scope of this play may not be large but it contains plenty to relate to, and is difficult to forget.

Ladies In Lavender visits the Royal stage until Saturday, April 28, before embarking on a national tour. It has been adapted for the stage by Shaun McKenna.

For more information, call 01604 624811 or visit: www.royalandderngate.co.uk