A Touch of the Sun

N.C.Hunter,
Salisbury Playhouse
(2006)

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N.C.Hunter is a British playwright with a rare grasp of ordinary people at the rough edges of life, such as school teacher Philip Lester, becalmed in the troubled waters of failure, his wife hemmed in by drudgery and the irascibility of the ageing parent in their care.

Jamie Newall has a flair for playing bad-tempered prigs, following his recent Salisbury appearances in Woman in Mind and Hunter’s earlier Waters of the Moon, with this excellent study of a man struggling to come to terms with his own responsibility for a lack-lustre career and a miserable marriage. Paula Stockbridge is also on song as the loyal wife who allows her sense of duty to override her lust for the chance of joy that might have been.

For out of the blue the Lesters are offered the rare treat of a holiday in the South of France and, with it, the unlikely opportunity of escape to happiness. The dour Philip, of course, has no time for such flim-flammery and, with this attitude at the helm, the adventure is destined to end in tears.

It is here, with the family’s arrival in Cannes, that the production, otherwise excellently directed by Joanna Read, reaches a point which matches Philip Lester’s prevailing mood. Just when we should be treated with the bright lights of the Riviera, designer Tim Meacock gives us, instead, a mere rearrangement of the gloomy, schoolhouse furniture of Acts one and three. Of course, it may be a subtle attempt to underline the fact that Lester will not tolerate his family enjoying a champagne life style enough to inspire his children (with their mother) to do their own thing.

Nevertheless, it is a missed opportinity almost as disappointing as anything the ineffective master of the house has achieved.The players do their best to contrive laughter, sunshine and the holiday spirit but we are never far from the gloomy surroundings of Leatherhead where all of us know we belong. A glimpse of sunlight is not enough to dispel the Prescott-like gloom which refuses to entertain the possibility of another kind of life.

Terry Taplin produces another slice of Hunter’s gloom with his interfering grandfather Robert and the whole experience is a telling reminder of how far even a second class teacher has progressed up the national salary scale since the late 1950’s.

The production continues until Saturday 20th May and then tours to the Connought Theatre, Worthing, from 23- 27 May, Guildford Yvonne arnaud Th from 6- 10 June, Cambridge Arts Theatre from 13 - 17 June, Watford Palace Theatre from 19- 24 June, Oxford Playhouse,from 27 June - 1 July and Bristol Old Vic from 4 until 8 July.

Sheila Connor reviewed this production at the Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole