Review – The Years Between, Royal, Northampton, 10th February

The Years BetweenThe 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?

Marianne Oldham 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.

Gerald Kyd 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.

David Verrey 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. Luke NunnThe 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!

Royal and Derngate Northampton Subscription Season Launch

So we had the launch party for the Royal and Derngate’s Subscription Season in the Royal theatre last Thursday evening. Great to whet your appetite for what the Royal’s got coming up for the year. Artistic Director Laurie Sansom introduced various directors and performers who will be on stage during the year ahead and it was a tantalising concoction.

The Years BetweenThe first thing they’ve got planned is The Years Between by Daphne du Maurier which sounds like it will be a meaty experience; Kate Saxon the director and two members of the cast spoke enthusiastically about their rehearsal process and it certainly made me look forward to the play, as it isn’t one with which I am familiar at all.

Diary of a NobodyDiary of a Nobody was next, and Robert Daws read an amusing extract from the play. It’s being directed by the same guy who directed Travels with my Aunt last year and that was a very inventive and lively production, so this should be good too. I miss Aunt Augusta’s tweets. She was a bit of a girl, really.

In Praise of LoveIn Praise of Love is a 1970s Rattigan play with which I am not familiar, but it sounds like it will be very promising. I enjoyed seeing his last play Cause Celebre in 1977 so I’m well aware he’s not just a 1930s/40s kind of guy, although those early plays are very entertaining too. “Il a des idées au-dessus de sa gare”. I’m all for more Rattigan. Bring it on.

Hamlet the MusicalI’m very much looking forward to Hamlet the Musical; we had a song from Hamlet himself, and if it is anything to go by, this should be a complete hoot. I’m not concerned about being a Shakespeare purist, I’m sure the original tragedy will survive this show. I met Hamlet afterwards, he didn’t entirely blend in with the rest of the crowd wearing his Comedy Dane outfit but I thought he was a thoroughly decent chap going by the name of Jack Shalloo and I’m sure he will deliver a palpable hit.

Eden EndEden End is the next show, a J B Priestley play, again one I’ve not seen, and I don’t think I would normally jump at the chance to see it, but I am confident that it will be ace as it is directed by Northampton’s very own Laurie Sansom. I’ve had a quick flick through my copy of the play and it seems fine on first sight. My favourite Priestley play is Dangerous Corner and I learned at this launch that Mr S has directed that play previously too, so that’s good enough credentials for me.

Two Gentlemen of VeronaIt’s a long season isn’t it. We’re now looking ahead to autumn. Two Gentlemen of Verona being performed by RashDash, a physical theatre company. They weren’t there on the night but we saw a video of them at work and it looks fascinating. I couldn’t quite see yet how their style would suit the Two Gentlemen but I like the idea of its being staged in modern Milan with models and catwalks. We’ll have to see.

The Go-BetweenThe last of the series is The Go-Between; one of my favourite films. This is now conceived as a musical which made me slightly nervous, because the only music that I associate with it is Michel Legrand’s haunting film soundtrack. However, one actor whose name I regret I didn’t catch, came forward and sang a song from it, and it wouldn’t have been out of place in Sondheim’s Company – intricate and delicate. I have high hopes.

So I’m predicting (and indeed hoping for) a year of more ups than downs.

I was trying to think of what I would like to see in a “fantasy” Royal subscription season. I’d like to see Laurie Sansom do some Pinter as he is so good at getting the best out of a complete ensemble. The Birthday Party would be a treat. I thought some Orton would also be good. I can imagine a farcical and daring production of What the Butler Saw on the Royal stage. Actors from 2009’s Ayckbourn season would be great doing that. I’d never seen any Eugene O’Neill until 2009’s Beyond the Horizon but I read all his plays when I was a teenager and I’d love to see a production of Mourning Becomes Electra. I’m sure the R&D could do it. I’d also love to see a revival of Peter Nichols’ Poppy but the Royal is probably a bit small for that. Lots more ideas bubbling under the surface of my brain, but I’ll stop boring you now.