‘Cranford’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by July 18, 2014

Cranford’ is semiautobiographical of 19th century English writer, Mrs Gaskell’s life in Knutsford, Cheshire. This 1951 hilarious adaption of the period comedy by Martyn Coleman consists of three or four of the novel’s earlier chapters. The full book was serialised in 1851 in a magazine called ‘Household Words’ that was edited by Charles Dickens.

The play is being presented at the Garrick Theatre, 16 Meadow Street, Guildford, nightly at 8.00 on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday every week until 26th July.

 

 The scene is Miss Matty’s house in the village of Cranford, mid 19th century.

Keith and heather Abbott’s design and construction of the Tudor style, timbered walls sitting room is outstanding. It has a staircase and bay window, two items avoided by most set designers. The luxurious furnishings and props were exceptional (Delia Molloy).

          Affable spinster, Miss Matty Jenkyns (Kerry Goode), is feeling her age and has decided to take on a young housemaid, Martha (Ellie Bawden) who has a mind of her own. Martha is very rough at the edges and Matty is having trouble teaching her the finer points of life, so calls for her young friend, Mary Smith (Maryanne Burke) to help.

       There is a knock at the front door; it is the dreaded snob and misandrist, the narrow-minded Miss Pole (Veronica Fourie) who, being extremely mean, has come to borrow the local paper. A few seconds later, Matty’s best pals, the timid Miss Betty Barker (Diana Graham) and nervous widow, Mrs Forrester (Dale James) arrive for tea. As their afternoon progresses, they learn from local surgeon, Dr Hoggins (Graham Miles) that the miserable curse of the village, lacklustre Mrs Jamieson (Susan Vincent) has her sister-in-law, a Countess coming to stay with her. She is Lady Glenmire (Heidi Davies).

         When the ladies group hears about a robber in the area, Matty feels much safer when she meets Jem (Ethan Acott), a young local lad.

 

To create a genuine feel for the period the show needs good scenery, fine props and quality costumes. This production had the lot. The wonderful costumes were created with style (Ailsa Travers) and in the case of Mrs Jamieson (Peta Korb, Shelley McGinn) humour, completing the desired effect. Clancy Travers lighting was imaginative and the sound well operated, although the screen shield around the wires in one of the leads was touching the signal wire and causing an earth hum over the music.

Dare I say that when many of the cast is carrying a senior’s card, one expects quite a few fluffed lines and the prompt having to work overtime? This definitely NOT the case here, the lines were delivered with conviction and flawless humour. Director, Ailsa Travers, has worked magic within the group, the chemistry was strong and the whole show just flew along.

I was expecting a dry Bronte-type love story; this has a couple of subtle love affairs, but so much more. It was a real hoot, with acting well above the average. Congratulations.