Spring and Port Wine
Oldham Coliseum Theatre
Oldham Coliseum Theatre
One of Bolton playwright Bill Naughton's most famous plays brings the Lancashire comedies of the 1910s, the likes of Hobson's Choice, forward half a century to when the young people who missed two world wars are rebelling against the authoritarianism of the previous generation.
Naughton's Henry Hobson is Rafe Crompton (James Quinn). Like Hobson, he tries to rule his household with strict discipline; unlike Hobson, Crompton has sons and a surviving wife, the latter forced to keep strict household accounts before he will unlock the cash box—to which all must contribute—to give her the housekeeping money.
Crompton believes he is keeping his children safe from worry and from financial hardship—which is true—unlike nosy neighbour Betsy Jane (Isabel Ford) who has to borrow money to prevent her TV from being repossessed. However to his children and to those outside the family, he is a bully.
Things come to a head when youngest daughter Hilda (Lauren Dickenson) turns her nose up at a herring on her plate, and dad insists on it being served to her at every meal until she eats it.
It's an interesting tale of lack of communication and understanding between the generations—Rafe has a good explanation for being how he is, but he would never tell his children—set at a time generally considered to be when young people's culture was breaking away from that of their parents, never to be restored.
There are some well-drawn characters, interesting social messages and good comic lines. However there is also some clumsiness in the writing, scenes that go on far longer than necessary and lots of over-explaining between characters—it seems Naughton preferred to give his actors a whole paragraph to say than to trust them to communicate with a look or a gesture.
Chris Honer's production doesn't break any boundaries but delivers the play effectively. There are some stand-out performance, particularly Karen Henthorn as mother Daisy Crompton, who holds the play together just as her character holds the family together. Isabel Ford very effectively renders the cliché of the nosy neighbour complaining constantly about her husband as a believable character.
Gareth Cassidy is also excellent as daughter Flo's fiancé Arthur, and there is a lovely characterisation from Sam Lupton of the more nervous son Wilfred. Some of the other performances are less convincing and in some cases trying a bit to hard to force the laughs.
James Quinn's Rafe is believable but never really comes across as the monster as which others portray him. This perhaps makes him a more sympathetic character from the start, but it gives him much less of an emotional journey through the play.
It's an effectively diverting and amusing old-fashioned comedy with some serious moments of the sort that goes down well with a Coliseum audience and is, we were told at the curtain call, selling well already.
Reviewer: David Chadderton