Ladies in Retirement
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9 October 2010
Charles Cryer Theatre, Carshalton
Stephen Macvicar

Thank you very much for inviting me to Chase Theatre Company’s production of Edward Percy & Reginald Denham’s play "Ladies in Retirement" recently at the Charles Cryer Theatre. Thanks also to Clare Gollop for making the necessary ticket arrangements.


Using an actual nineteenth century murder as the basis of their plot, the dramatists have transferred the events from France to the lonely marshes of the Thames estuary. In a remote, lonely house Leonora Fiske, an ex-actress lives with her companion Ellen Creed. At first, a visit from Ellen's two sisters does little to suggest what lies ahead, but when the eccentric guests make themselves at home, Leonora's patience wears thin. She requests that Ellen's guests leave, but after a bitter row it is Leonora who vanishes. The arrival of the Creed sisters' nephew Albert only adds to the mystery and suspense, as his own shadowy past complicates the recent occurrences. As he gradually pieces together the series of events which have unfolded, he must then hope that the eerie moonlit pantomime murder he stages to trap the real murderer succeeds - before he becomes the next victim. There is gentle comedy throughout as we allow Leonora's easy manner and the sisters' eccentricities to charm us, but it is the driving force which motivates Ellen that provides the tension. Ellen admits that she is no longer "a very good judge of what is right or wrong".

I always look forward to my trips to see Chase Theatre Company productions and I especially enjoy the costume dramas because so very few societies undertake the dramas and certainly none pay as much attention to detail in terms of setting and props as Chase do. This production was no exception as the playing area of this Victorian home contained no less than a piano, a writing desk, a chez longue, a cooker, tables and chairs, a shrine, a grandfather clock and a period rug. I could go on but the setting was marvellous. Perhaps for future shows – could I ask you to take a photo(s) of the set and e-mail to me so I can consider for Scenery award nominations.

Whilst I would have to say that this wasn’t my most favourite production by Chase Theatre Company to date, I did appreciate the amount of work that went into it and you clearly had your problems to overcome - which you successfully did on most counts. Losing your leading man days before curtain up is the content of many nightmares but on this occasion it happened to Chase. This clearly had an effect on the cast and it affected the pace of the production - I must at this stage congratulate Barry Gollop for taking to the stage with the book in order for the show to go on but it did inevitably take away much of the tension you were trying to evoke. One or two aspects of this production did come to mind which you may consider for future productions. Many of these three act epics could do with some pruning – it was a late finish, the second half was longer than the first, the auditorium was very warm and in general it was just too long. I noticed that Albert’s character was required to smoke a pipe – my feeling is that if the actor isn’t comfortable or natural with a cigarette/cigar/pipe etc and it not essential to the plot, then I would disregard it. Barry didn’t look particularly comfortable with the pipe especially as he was holding the book.

I have included brief comments on the main cast member in programme order;

The ever reliable Clare Gollop was the glue in the piece as our central character Ellen Creed. Clare is very watchable and believable on stage which is necessary for such a large and demanding role. Barry Gollop was thrust into the part of Albert Feather at the eleventh with book in hand and again congratulations for having the bottle to do that.

Our eccentric Creed sisters were entertainingly played by Penny Ayliffe (Louisa) and Heather Crosskey (Emily). There was a contract with one sister cookie and the other somewhat depressed. Judy Abbott’s performance as Leonora Fiske was well judge however I wasn’t entirely convinced with Judy’s wig. The smaller roles were well covered by Amy Clarke as the irish maid Lucy Gilham, Martin Rolls as Bates and Denise Mayne, who just needed to slow her dialogue down a little, as Sister Theresa

There was the odd minor technical issue regarding music and blackouts but not sufficient to detract. It was overall an entertaining production under the direction of the evergreen Denis Steer and with a bit of pruning and without the loss of your leading man it would have been even better.

Once again thank you for inviting me to the Charles Cryer Theatre and best wishes for your next production – a return to Fawlty Towers.

I look forward to seeing you again in the not too distant future.

Kindest Regards

Stephen Macvicar
Area 3