The Anniversary

Bill MacIlwraith
A Liverpool Everyman production
Garrick Theatre
(2005)

Sheila Hancock in The Anniversary

The Anniversary is best known as a 1968 film starring Bette Davis as the mother from hell and a young actress named Sheila Hancock as her daughter-in-law and rival, Karen. A generation on and the role of matriarch of a dynasty of cowboy builders fronted by her trio of wimpish sons has passed to that actress, now a big draw.

The play, set in South London circa 1966, is perhaps an unexpected choice for revival but remains surprisingly fresh and funny. This is at least in part due to Denis Lawson's direction which majors on immaculate comic timing from all six cast members, as buildings and lives threaten to collapse around their characters.

One pleasure is that it contains three really excellent parts for women. Miss Hancock has great fun playing shrill, scheming Mum. She is a mistress of the scathing remark, who looks uncannily like Barbara Castle but behaves more like a cross between Lady Thatcher and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Mum meets her matches in round-shouldered Karen, visibly filled with a pent-up fury aimed at both her lily-livered husband and ogreish mother-in-law. She is played with gusto by that excellent character actress Rosie Cavaliero, reliving her West End success in Abigail's Party.

New to the family is Sheila. This tiny blonde, dressed in the sixties fashion of minidress and white tights personified by Twiggy, eventually gives as good as she gets. Madeleine Worrall mixes characteristic dumb blonde with a dash of nineties power woman.

The three sons played by Tony Maudsley, John Marquez and Liam Garrigan are an odd bunch. Effeminate Henry is a mummy's boy who likes to wear her clothes, while Terry and Tommy (Ringo Starr reincarnated) are still tied to her apron strings despite the finest efforts of their respective ladies.

When the family gathers on Guy Fawkes Night to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of Mum and lucky Dad who must be delighted to have escaped to the grave, the boys all have surprises in store. However, once they confront the matriarch with news of transvestism, emigration, engagement and pregnancy, the storm breaks and, like a nuclear stand-off, escalates towards a threatened explosion.

Suddenly a ravening wolf is on the prowl, happy to eat the women alive and scare them to death, in her attempts to protect her young and keep them with her.

The sum is far greater than the constituent parts and the verbal jousting is ferocious. All three actresses have their moments in comic monologues while the men support them well.

Designer Robin Don catches the period well with gaudy clothes and furnishings that include a shrine to dead dad and a hideous orange three-piece suite.

The Anniversary is fun and with Sheila Hancock in the lead, may just have enough of what it takes for a prolonged West End run.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher