Lichfield Players in the Garrick Studio
Tuesday 14 May 2019
By Jono Oates
If you, like me, were a child of the 60s, then you’ll have grown up watching some of the best television comedies of the 1970s to 1990s – Please Sir!, The Good Life, Ever Decreasing Circles, Brush Strokes, A Fine Romance and As Time Goes By. These were all written, or co-written, by Bob Larbey one of the finest exponents of gentle, observational and witty comedy on screen and stage. The latest production by the Lichfield Players is A Month of Sundays, Larbey’s first stage play. It was originally performed in 1986 at the Duchess Theatre when the two lead roles were played by George Cole and Geoffrey Bayldon.
Set in the bedroom of a nursing home in the south of the country the play revolves around two of the residents, Cooper and Aylott who are the best of friends. Both men realise that the only way they can cope with their lives, as they wait for the inevitable final curtain, is to respond with wit and humour. So they form an escape committee, moan and complain about the nursing home meals, wind up and make fun of the other residents and the nursing staff and, generally, perform like octogenarian Men Behaving Badly!
The bedroom belongs to Cooper, who has a waspish, acerbic wit, quotes Shakespeare repeatedly to baffle the put-upon staff and, after a fall, totters around on a damaged leg while refusing to use the walking stick that he had been provided with. His chum Aylott is more sympathetic and kindly, who totally understands Cooper’s frustration and world-weary cynicism and tries to stop his friend from getting completely out of control.
The two friends spend their days frittering away the time, enjoying banter with the staff, playing games of chess, enjoying the odd tot of whisky and pottering around the care home.
They are looked after by young Nurse Wilson, who clearly has a soft spot for Cooper despite his put-downs and outrageous, and at times inappropriate, flirting and also by Mrs Baker, their genial housekeeper who, again, enjoys a love-hate relationship with the irascible Cooper.
Copper is visited, on the first Sunday of every month, by his only child, Julia, and her husband Peter. Julia and Peter do not live close to the nursing home and so their journey is often blighted by roadworks and traffic holdups so that each time they visit they are delayed and their visiting times are frequently short.
Cooper bickers with his daughter whose relationship has been strained further by the recent loss of his wife and his relationship with his grandson has also suffered. Copper feels isolated, unwanted and unloved and seeks solace in his friendship with his friend Aylott. As the two comrades’ health starts to fail they realise that their friendship, and Cooper’s relationship with his family, evolves and changes leading to an emotional, and thought-provoking ending.
Peter Carrington-Porter plays Copper and is excellent throughout. It’s a very intensive role as Copper is on stage for the whole show and so the line count is very high. He is perfect as the point-scoring, one-upmanship, irritable and clever-clogs Cooper but who also shows us his vulnerability as he worries about his relationship with is family and his concern for his friend Aylott. Lichfield Players debutant Zoe Matthews is perfectly lovely as Nurse Wilson, and her relationship with crotchety Cooper is well-crafted with a great empathy between the two characters. Carol Talbot is very bright and breezy as Mrs Baker the cleaner and Sarah Stanley as put-upon daughter Julia and Richard Clarke as Peter, her long suffering husband provide strong support.
This is a gentle comedy, typical of Larbey’s work, very witty, very clever and has a bittersweet element to it. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this play is very well timed as it makes us think very clearly and poignantly about the issues of mental health, especially when those issues affect our loved ones or people that we know.
The production is directed by Maureen George with great sensitivity, love and care, with some lovely performances from the small, but talented, cast and is produced by Kathy Byers. As usual the Studio environment at the Garrick is ideal as you can see every facial movement and expression on the actors’ faces, it does make you feel very much part of the performance itself.
This play will not have you rolling in the aisles or laughing all the way home but it will definitely make you smile, giggle, sigh, gasp and also bring a tear to your eye. It is charming, witty, beautifully constructed and is, I would say, more relevant today than when it first appeared on stage in the mid-1980s.
A Month of Sundays, by the Lichfield Players, runs until Saturday 18 May 2019. Performances start at 7.45pm and there is a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday 18 May. Tickets are £14 and £12 for students and are available from the Box Office at the Lichfield Garrick, ring 01543 412121 or book online at: