New Era Players - The Anniversary
4th to 7th September and 11th to 14th September 2019
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
New Era's matriarchal black comedy
New Era Players: The Anniversary, at New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from Wednesday, September 4 to Saturday, September 14
Family dynamics are put under the microscope in the New Era Players' latest production, The Anniversary.
Bill MacIlwraith's black comedy about a terrifying matriarch and her three cowboy builder sons (together for an anniversary celebration, despite their late father's absence) is something of a mixed blessing for women.
On the one hand there's three solid female roles for the cast to get their teeth into – although as they talk about little else but the men in their lives, this wouldn't pass the Bechdel test.
On the other, there's the personalities of these women – in some ways almost the same woman, Mum, but at different points in her evolution.
Shirley is young and coquettish, but soon shows her claws. Karen is bitter and battle-worn and Mum, who doesn't have any other name, is a lying, manipulative monster who'll do anything to keep her brood in check.
You feel that, for all their respective ranting and pathetic whining about their ma, Tom and Terry have fallen for women who'll end up exactly like her, while Henry will be happy to live at home forever.
There were some clever touches in the staging of this production, such as the impression of a bonfire in the back garden, and the set and costumes were suitably of the time (the 60s).
Kathleen Ray was brilliant in the lead role of Mum. Every comment was a dagger, every wounded glance poison – she was both a martyr and Machiavellian master.
Rachel Potter was a fiery presence, a woman at war with Mum and saddled somewhat by her husband Terry, played with suitably hangdog demeanour by Matt Lewin.
Stan Dooley as Tom and Philippa Jefferies as Shirley were perhaps not ideally matched, but they performed valiantly in roles that now seem slightly dated.
Neil Dewdney, meanwhile, made the best of a bad lot as Henry – a cross-dressing kleptomaniac thrown in for light relief, now indicative of the prejudices of the time.
The pace of the piece was good and the cast worked together well, planets orbiting a matriarchal sun.
At the end, Mum sits alone, unapologetic. For all the insults, rows and declarations of independence, I couldn't shake the feeling the children would be back the minute they needed her.