Laburnum Grove by J. B. Priestly

laburnhamgroveThe Wychwood Players’ latest production gave us a chance to witness pre-war 1930’s English suburbia as dramatised by the noted writer J. B. Priestley in his early play Laburnum Grove.

In her lucid programme notes the Director, Hazel Hughes, amusingly justified her admiration of this gentle comedy which, after over 70 years, still has the bite of a Yorkshire terrier. This production held the audience’s rapt attention and, as a bonus, the final scene raced along with zip-wire speed.

The plot centred around whether an ostensibly respectable businessman in the paper industry was actually a forger of banknotes and bonds. This enigmatic man was George Radfern, played by Aram Gregory in his usual towering way as befitting a character who could be either a master criminal or simply a dull patriarch. As Bernard Baxley (Radfern’s brother-in-law), Phillip Croxson, revelled gleefully in his role as a returning ex-pat scrounger with a liking for his host’s cigarettes; even bananas had appeal! Rose Hartley as Radfern’s wife, Dorothy, was a delight and her efforts at keeping up appearances almost seemed like a pre-cursor of a blooming Hyacinth Bucket – pronounced ‘bouquet’. Appropriately, Dorothy’s daughter, Elsie, was played by Rose’s real-life daughter-in-law, Rachel Hartley, who accurately displayed the innocence of a 1930’s young girl and was an attractive foil to her car-dealer boyfriend, Harold Russ, played by a very spirited Will Young.

Joanna McKerlie gave her customary accomplished performance as Lucy, the rather unsympathetic and frumpish wife of Bernard Baxley. An inspector did call and Ralph Wears as Inspector Stack was so convincing that he could have stepped straight out of the Scotland Yard of yesteryear. Steve Colter efficiently played Joe Fletten as a dodgy dealer with a strange penchant for the off-stage greenhouse. It was a neat theatrical trick to introduce the late arrival of Sergeant Morris and this part gave Mark Jessey a chance to sparkle briefly with his cameo appearance.

This production showed many adroit touches from the crew who were responsible for the set, sound and lighting. Hazel Hughes’ first production for the Players must be rated an unqualified success.

John Drew

February – March 2020