‘The Darling Buds of May’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by April 15, 2016

‘The Darling Buds of May’ was written by H. E. Bates (1958) who was particularly famous for his short stories. ‘The Darling Buds’, which was a very popular BBCtv series twenty-five years ago, was very much based on his own life. Bates bought an old granary with a few acres of land when he was first married and lived there until his death in 1974 – his wife lived there for a further 30 years. His son Jonathan was nominated for an Oscar for his soundscape work on ‘Ghandi’. Recently Buss Farm was sold for $2.7 million.
Bates wrote five books about Pop Larkins’ adventures. This play is named after a line in one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
This wonderful, two and a quarter hour, Ellenbrook Theatre Company Inc. production can be seen at the Ellenbrook Performing Arts Centre, 100 Main Street in Ellenbrook. The performances are on Friday 15th, Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th April 7.30 pm, with matinees at 2.30 on Saturday and Sunday. It should be pointed out that the producers suggest the show is more suitable for ages 12 and over.

It is a beautiful day in May 1957 in the Garden of England – Kent. In this countryside lie Pop Larkin’s farm and fruit orchards.
This outstanding set must have been a massive undertaking for producer Jan Oliver and stage manager Tony Perry’s team. It has to the left of the audience, a farmhouse sitting room / kitchen complete with all of the fixtures and fittings of the 50’s era, such as fridge, oven and two old TV sets. This is a truly ‘lived in’ house, and one that has you looking at the props and thinking ‘Granma had one of those’ (props Richard Hadler). On the other side of the ‘dividing wall’ is the farmyard, complete with straw bales, old tyres and patio furniture.
The artistically painted landscape gave real depth to the scene, with a red brick wall and white picket fence finishing off the effect beautifully. The cast along with Debbie Smythe, Nicola Stewart, Freya Gleeson, Jordon Lenihan, Anne Anderson, Seth Oliver and Gerran Turner created the set.
The programme, one of this year’s best (photography Sean Breadsell), inside it has a few countryside recipes and killer cocktails. Other hard working helpers included Suzanne Hadler, Hayley Stopp and Angie Brown.

        The Larkins have just returned home after a family day out. As Ma, ‘the most wonderfully caring, yet strong-minded wife ever’ (Meredith Corr) is warming up the fish and chips for the kids, Pop (Richard Hadler) is preparing one of his potent drinks. Their only son, Montgomery (Damion Brown) is setting the table. The twins, Zinnia (Ruby Oliver) and Petunia (Breannah Rigoli) are arranging the dining chairs. Youngest daughters, Victoria (Lily Stopp) and Primrose are watching the ‘Lone Ranger’ on the ancient TV set.
         The sixth child, who is almost 18, is the attractive and blatantly lustful Marietta (Giordarna Rigoli) has just found a shy, handsome young man wandering around the farmyard. Despite being a tax inspector, Cedric Charlton (Dominic Masterson), Marietta shamelessly moves in for ‘the kill’. When offered food, Cedric succumbs and is dragged into the house.
          Cedric, now nicknamed Charlie, has called at the Larkins’ Farm because, like many of the neighbours, including the senile Brigadier (Ryan Marano) next door – Pop Larkin has not paid any tax for decades. How could he pay? After all the necessities of life he showers onto people, he has no money left. When a second senior tax inspector (Tim Ward) turns up a couple of days later, Pop is still undaunted.
          The sexually frustrated, horsey Miss Pilchester (Lindsey Turner) explains to warm and loving Pop how grateful she is for his help with the gymkhana. As the crowds gather, it is not long before Marietta has some passionate competition for Cedric from farmhand, Pauline (Samantha Stein); but who is the mysterious visitor, Angela Snow (Larissa Ferns) and what is she doing looking around the farm?
          Dancing in the barnyard are neighbours Sir George Bluff-Gore (Peter Boylen) and Lady Rose (Sylvia Guest) who have a title and a sizeable mansion, but why does Pop seems extra keen to have a special word them?

The immaculate costumes (Jan and Bryony Oliver) were ‘perfick’ for the era, from the twins’ pinafores to the well-worn Brigadier’s clothes. There were several costume changes for the Larkins, all rustic but beautifully styled. Further help came from Suzanne Hadler, Hayley Stopp and Angie Brown.
Director Andrew Hemstock and his assistant, Bryony Oliver, have capably captured the warmth of this play. The whole story is based around a loving family atmosphere, where nothing else matters than the happiness and welfare of the family. With two superb leads, Richard and Meredith as ‘Pop’ and ‘Ma’ this show glows.
Ryan Marano, who is in his early twenties, was most convincing as the slightly senile, 80 year old neighbour, I really thought he was over 50 in real life. Sexy Giordarna and timid Dominic worked convincingly as the young loving couple. The whole cast oozed warmth, with perfect interaction and chemistry.
The lighting and sound designs were by Tony and Suzanne Perry, with technical operations by Mark Turnbull. The colour of the lighting was well considered, as the pink glow of evening turned to the blue of the night. The accurate sound effects of the vehicles, blackbirds and nightingales were crisp and most realistic.
It took me 45 minutes each way from my home in Ardross, but it was well worth the journey – Ellenbrook is not the end of the earth! This beautifully presented production, in a comfortable theatre, is certainly worth seeing.
Enjoy a delightful evening in the country, with the family that was a major hit in every home for five years in the 1990s.