A Touch of the Sun

N C Hunter
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2006)

Publicity photo

A very moralistic play, asking the question: Is one more likely to find happiness being poor but doing a worthwhile job to help and improve society, or is it money and the privileges it brings which contributes to our sense of well-being?

The story is of the Lester family – all seven of them – and our first introduction is in the house of schoolmaster Philip (Jamie Newall), barely making ends meet and with his wife Mary constantly working and feeling worn out and old. To add to the financial worries, and to the workload, father Robert (Terry Taplin) lives with them – a man who managed to educate his sons at public school, but who is now bankrupt and reliant on the support of his family. Teenagers John and Caroline are helpful and dutiful children (this is 1957 – were teenagers different then?) contently accepting their father’s discipline.

Into the picture come brother Dennis (Ian Targett) and his new wife, rich American Margaret, arriving for a visit in their sumptuous car and bringing tales of their beautiful houses and extravagant lifestyle. They have plenty of room – why not have father come to live with them, and meanwhile why not all holiday with them in their villa in Cannes – all expenses paid. Why not indeed! Philip has misgivings, but is won over, and they have their ‘touch of the sun’.

The transformation is amazing! The family – with the exception of Philip – are happy, relaxed and having a wonderful time enjoying the lifestyle and their glamorous new outfits. So is money the answer to all problems? Maybe not! The rich playboy who falls for Mary is discontented with his life despite his wealth.

So doing a worthwhile job and helping the disadvantaged in society is more important than riches. Absolutely right – but it was still a great disappointment seeing the happy, joyous family revert to their shabby poor state after their brief moment in the sun and settling for contentment with their lot, although Philip begins to re-evaluate his beliefs, and son John (Giles Cooper) now realises that influential connections will get him further than hard work.

The most convincing performances here are from the women. Ellie Piercy, taking on the role which provided a young Vanessa Redgrave with her London stage debut, changes from awkward gawkiness to excited young woman on the brink of womanhood, and then back to the reality of her normal life. Caroline Head is the brittle American socialite who can never be too rich or too thin, and who cannot eventually cope with the eccentricities of the old man upsetting her fashionably elegant life, and Paula Stockbridge’s Mary is realistic in her portrayal of downtrodden, work worn wife thoroughly enjoying the relief from housework, the glamorous lifestyle and a little male attention.

Although there are some laughs the show is more depressing than amusing with none of the characters truly engaging our sympathy, and while Tim Meacock’s set is suitably 1950’s austerity, the Riviera scene is artificial and sparse, the impression that this is a low-budget production being emphasised by the scurrying figures changing the scenery.

Supposedly semi-autographical – Hunter was himself an impoverished schoolmaster before three of his plays were successful, so he experienced poverty and riches. Which did he find the most satisfying? We will never know.

Touring to Cambridge, Watford, Oxford and Bristol

This review was first published in Theatreworld Internet Magazine

Kevin Catchpole reviewed this production at the Salisbury Playhouse.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor