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April 7, 2008 | by  | in Theatre |
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Summers End

Retirement homes are the places old people get sent to die. We all know that, sure, but we expect that death to be of natural causes, not because they’ve been bumped off by person or persons unknown.

In Summer End Eric Chappell, author of Rising Damp and Only When I Laugh, combines the unusual duo of murder-mystery/ thriller with comic character study – all taking place within the festering petri dish of a nursing home for the elderly.

The story revolves around cantankerous and cunning Emily Baines (played with relish by Betty Adam) and her kindhearted roommate May (an unbelievably sweet natured Nan Harris). Emily’s last roommate died unexpectedly – and Emily suspects the worst – but as a renowned shrew with never a nice word to say to anybody, she has difficulty in getting anyone to listen to her grave suspicions.

The net of possible suspects is cast wide – including her son Alan (a forceful Alec Rogers), ‘that lumpish nurse’ Sally (a truly lumpish and whining Angela Harris), and Mrs Lang, the distressingly know-it-all matron (a condescending Jan Lippert). As events unfold we even come to have our doubts about Emily herself.

Christine Hunt’s direction was unobjectionable, if unexciting and Stephen Fearnley’s set does a fine job of transforming a black box into the bed-sitting room of a pair of fussy old ladies, using large panels of wallpaper and little Dresden china shepherdesses which I swear could have been nicked from my own Nana’s mantelpiece. Iona Anderson’s costumes were also very appropriate – a series of housecoats and splendid quilted sateen dressing gowns – and one of the most marvelous hat and evening dress combos I’ve ever had the pleasure to see.

“Times passes slowly when you get to our age” says Emily at one point, and I couldn’t have agreed with her more. Running at just under two and a half hours, Summer End is a long journey, and one that dragged in places. I couldn’t help feeling it would benefit from picking up the pace a bit and shaving off twenty minutes or so.

It would have been nice if they had built up a sense of dramatic tension and suspense, but, generally, the show was played for laughs (of which there were precious few). Despite the strong lead of Betty Adams the energy and performances of the rest of the cast faltered in places and, given the long build up, the final denouement seemed a little disappointing in its brevity.

Still, if you love a good old fashioned murder mystery, Agatha Christie style, then head to the Gryphon and check this out – and remember to keep your eyes peeled for the mysterious Mr Vernon Watts.

Summer End
Written by Eric Chappell
Directed by Christine Hunt
Gryphon Theatre
20-29 March

Whats’s Hot

The Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) opera company is presenting the ‘powerfully dramatic’ one-act opera Good Angel, Bad Angel at Gryphon Theatre this week. It’ll probably be better than Who Wants To Be 100?, which is the only other show playing in town at this point, plus it stars two Vic music students, Hadleigh Adams and Frances Moore.

Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, the opera follows the journey of a thief, Markheim, who, on Christmas Eve, wants to put his life of crime and violence behind him. But old habits, and the intervention of a Visitant from beyond the grave, threaten to lead him back to his old ways…

Sounds spooky.

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