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New Era - This Happy Breed

2nd to 11th June 2005.

Here is the NWN review.

Life between the wars

New Era Players: This Happy Breed, at New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from Thursday, June 2 to Saturday, June 11

Think of Noël Coward and you probably think of upper class wit and sophistication, but This Happy Breed is more EastEnders than Mayfair. It’s the story of a family and their neighbours in the inter-war years from 1919 to 1939. When Frank Gibbons returns from the war he moves into a house on Clapham Common with his wife Ethel and his teenage children. The fortunes of the family, and the country, go up and down over the next twenty years, and the play explores some of the social changes taking place. Finally, with all the children gone, Frank and Ethel move out to a smaller house.

Frank, as head of the family, is the pivotal character and David Zeke gave it just the right mixture of gravitas and frivolity, the latter when out boozing with Bob, his neighbour and mate from the war, a rather gormless individual well portrayed by David Tute.

Ethel, Frank’s put-upon wife, has a lot to cope with and gets more embittered as time goes on. This was a very strong performance by Kathleen Ray; our hearts went out to her as she came to terms with the death of her son and the alienation of her daughter.

Val Maskell, as Ethel’s mother, and Janet Bennett, as Frank’s sister, sparred well together, and there was a nice bit of comedy from Dawn Sellick as the blowsy maid Edie.

The three Gibbons children, Reg (Neal Dewdney), Queenie (Rachel Lashford) and Vi (Nicola Sowden) coped well with the transition from childhood to maturity. Queenie had a real problem with the lifestyle at home (“I hate it – it’s all so common”), and Rachel Lashford caught her anguish well as she decided to give up the boy next door whom she didn't love for the married man she was infatuated with. This boy next door was Bob’s son Billy, an uncomplicated but loyal lad, well played by Jed Shardlow, who gets his girl in the end.

Stuart Hillman was good as Sam the socialist, who matures when he gets married, and Georgie Gale gave a delightful performance as Reg’s wife Phyllis.

The play was a bit too long but director Lisa Harrington’s strong and varied cast yet again showed New Era’s excellence.