Cider with Rosie
Laurie Lee, adapted by Nick Darke
New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme
Laurie Lee's memoir of growing up in Gloucestershire in the years between the two world wars has proved immensely popular - six million copies had been sold at the last count.
It's a gentle and genteel recollection of being brought up with his eight siblings by a single mother, the narrative recalling a world that seems so alien in these days of technological gadgetry.
Nick Darke, who spent nine years in Stoke as a member of the Victoria Theatre Company, has adapted the novel and guides us from the earliest days Lee can remember through his first day at school to adolescence and his encounter with the cider-drinking girl of the title.
Along the way we meet strange relatives and a host of vivid individuals who show that they were able to enjoy their lives despite the poverty and hardships they were forced to endure.
Theresa Heskins' production brings to life the people and the places that characterised Slad Valley. There are few two-dimensional characters as the cast of nine throw themselves into their multiple roles with enthusiasm and aplomb. They play all ages and swap genders skilfully to present a thoroughly enjoyable evening's entertainment.
It's unfair to single out any of the ensemble for praise although James Bolt is impressive as he grows up as the young Laurie Lee; Olwen May who sings beautifully earns sympathy as the eccentric and at times extravagant mother; and Claude Close immediately settles in to any role he plays including a German marchioness for which he adopts a falsetto voice.
The New Vic has earned a reputation for its imaginative work of a high quality and Cider With Rosie does nothing to harm the theatre's standing.
As artistic director of the theatre-in-the-round, Heskins knows exactly how to get the best out of the space. Designer Michael Holt's rustic set features a circular raised area under which the props are stored. They slickly appear at precisely the right moment despite the numerous changes of scene.
The stage is quickly transformed from a dining-room table into the bedroom where seven children sleep. Later a couple of white duvets give the impression of snowy outdoors as the actors throw "snowballs" into the audience.
If you expect to see plenty of action during Cider With Rosie, you'll be disappointed because Laurie Lee explores personal relationships in a much gentler way.
But there is definitely drama, especially when the young Laurie nets his first girlfriend - the tension in the auditorium was almost tangible - as well as in the tale of the village hangman.
The audience on the night I attended was mainly people of a mature age for whom the memories of a bygone age came flooding back. It was a pity there weren't more younger theatregoers who would have been able to experience some of the austere yet enjoyable times their ancestors lived through.
"Cider With Rosie" continues until September 22nd
Reviewer: Steve Orme