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Review: Ladies in Lavender, Theatre Royal, Bath
Until Saturday June 2
The discovery of a half-drowned man on a beach awakens a storm of emotions in a Cornish village just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
William J Locke’s moving and funny original short story was adapted as a film by Charles Dance and then again for the stage by Shaun McKenna.
The film starred those two redoubtable Dames of British theatre Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Taking their respective roles as sisters Ursula and Janet on stage are Hayley Mills and Belinda Lang. They bring their own wealth of talent and perception to the characters of the ageing spinster sisters who find their rescue and care of the young shipwreck victim stirring unfamiliar and alarming emotions.
Lang combines a down-to-earthness and the suppression of memories of her own lost love with compassion and tenderness towards Mills who conveys the agony of love found too late.
Carol Macready provides robust comedy as Dorcas the sisters’ housekeeper who pulls no punches about human folly and whose remedy for it all is a cup of tea and an abundance of cakes.
Robert Duncan is empathetic as the middle-aged doctor who first treats the young man, then lends him his violin, but descends to pettiness when he sees him as a rival for the affections of an aloof young Russian artist (Abigail Thaw) who visits the village for the summer.
The man unwittingly at the centre of the whirlpool is Robert Rees, who delicately underplays his pivotal role and holds the focus.
Liz Ascroft’s (correct) set and Mick Hughes’ lighting combine to create magic.
It is a gentle story but with an edginess in the gathering war clouds at the time.
It is a rewarding evening’s entertainment.