If you wanted a template for a financially successful production then adapting a much-loved film for the stage and then casting two famous actors in the title roles would seem to fit the bill. I confess to having approached this production with a rather cynical eye as it all seemed a little formulaic.
Happily my cynicism was soon swept away with a great adaptation, splendid set and a tide of superlative acting. Probably the finest piece of theatre I will see this year.
Ladies in Lavender was originally a short story, then adapted for the screen and here further adapted for the stage. The adaptation was skilfully done with the cast whittled down to a minimalist six. Various locations are also written out including the barn and the concert hall, which is where the film ends. For those who know and love the film there is no need to worry except that you may just have to concede that you love this stage version more.
The composite set was nothing short of magnificent: detailed, evocative of its time and place, a mystical union of design and construction.
Robert Rees (Andrea) played his part with great honesty and his relationship with the two sisters was most tender and moving. Robert Duncan (Dr Mead) and Abigail Thaw (Olga) were splendid, especially in their duologues together. He playing the hapless but persistent suitor to her sometimes pointed but always polite rebuttals.
This production is laced with good humour of the laugh-out-loud variety. At the heart of most of the humorous moments is Carol Macready (Dorcas); her characterisation was superb and the timing and delivery of her comic lines was flawless. The story is about the relationship between the two sisters Belinda Lang (Janet) and Hayley Mills (Ursula). If you did not know that these are two actors at the peak of their profession you will when you see them strike sparks off of each other here. Their portrayal of the sister’s long lives together and underlying deep affection for each other was, quite simply, acting of the highest order The evening was full of moments of theatrical excellence but one stands out above the rest. Alone on stage Ursula kneels besides the sleeping, defenceless Andrea. Anything, absolutely anything that Ursula decides to do now will be in character, there is a breathless hush in the auditorium, a long beautiful pause of pure silence. Finally Ursula …
So to the ending, there is no concert hall so it cannot end like the film, so how will it end? Suffice to say the director took quite a risk with the length of the final scene. There is no movement on stage, nothing is happening, and yet everything is happening. The ending is sublime.
Is this production faultless? Well no. A staging issue here a choice of prop there but such minor fault-finding would be unforgivable in the face of a production of such inestimable quality. Besides it does not do for mere mortals like myself to mess with such theatrical gods.
In conclusion: Go! Just Go! Theatre of such quality is a rare and precious thing.
Ladies in Lavender runs at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham until Saturday 23 June 2012