The Years Between is a rather long-forgotten play by Daphne du Maurier, that takes place during the Second World War and originally produced in 1944. Thus it’s a new experience for everyone who will see it so it feels rather like going to see a brand new play. However, the serenely beautiful set welcomes us to a world of comfortable writing desks, sky high bookcases, elegant French windows and a reassuringly crunchy gravel drive outside. All it needs is a nanny and a well behaved nine year old boy and the picture is complete. We are definitely in 1942 not 2011.
But there are many similarities between that era and our own. Admittedly we don’t have to scrap the railings for salvage, send our favourite books for pulp or knit balaclavas to help the war effort, but we do send our loved ones overseas to fight in wars and sometimes we don’t see them come home.
Diana Wentworth is at the centre of this comfortable home, with loving son, devoted nanny, reliably solid cousin at the farm, and (presumably) loving husband overseas. So when he is lost at sea she faces the crisis of what-to-do; and she chooses action. She replaces her husband as the sitting MP; she immerses herself in progressive politics, playing a part in improving education and housing; she falls in love with the cousin. Then she discovers she is not a widow after all. I’m not going to tell you any more of the plot, for obvious reasons. But what a dilemma! And it could easily happen today.
Indeed it is a really engrossing story. At the interval Mrs Chrisparkle was positively intrigued at the realisation that she had absolutely no idea how Diana’s tale was going to end. It’s an excellent piece of story-telling with many relevant themes for today. Is it reasonable for someone who has been away for a long time to expect nothing has changed? How do you reconcile a couple with politically reactionary ideas and progressive ideas? Which is greater – the love for your country of the love for your partner? And do you regret the way you spent The Years Between?
At the heart of the production is Marianne Oldham’s performance as Diana. You can instantly see on her first appearance that she makes a lively juxtaposition to the careworn nanny, the anxious son and the reliably dull cousin. She is a go-getter. No nonsense, but caring with it. She wants to do the best for everyone, including herself. Marianne Oldham expresses Diana’s personality perfectly – you really feel that you get under her skin and know what she is thinking even before she has said anything. It’s a lively, entertaining but also sensitive performance.
And the perfect foil for that is Gerald Kyd as Michael, a scarred and embittered character as a result of his war experience (although you get the feeling he was always a hard man to like); by turn petulant, reasonable, selfish, kindly. He’s totally convincing and also conveys the character into the auditorium with authority and understanding.
The supporting cast is also extremely effective; I particularly enjoyed David Verrey as Sir Ernest Foster, the cabinet minister and family friend, who strikes just the right tone of wealthy arrogant self-indulgence without ever becoming a caricature. The substantial role of Robin, the son, was performed on the night we saw it by Luke Nunn and he took it with gusto – confident, amusing, clearly fully integrated with the rest of the cast as an equal.
A very satisfying evening, full of insight and provocative themes. Catch it while you can.
PS Mrs Chrisparkle and I normally have a glass of wine on arrival and another in the interval. We really appreciated the idea of the barman who suggested we buy a bottle, had a glass each beforehand, and in the interval the remainder of the bottle was waiting for us in a nice big ice bucket with two glasses. It really felt quite glamorous and celebratory!