Spring & Port Wine – Sir John Mills Theatre

On the surface life is all happy families in the Crompton house in Bolton. Run with military precision by patriarch Rafe it’s a home where financial prudence is key, a rule not helped when Mother is not good with figures and a chain of borrowing causes many a headache. Scratch the surface though and there are tensions just waiting to be released, all it takes is the smallest trigger to spark rebellion.

Based on author Bill Naugton’s own upbringing in Lancashire, Spring & Port Wine became a classic of the 1960s and now offers a fascinating insight into the period, a time when the role of women in the household was beginning to change. In these time when fiscal responsibility is being urged it should also offer a relevance to today however Gallery Players latest production never ignites the much needed spark.

Naughton has created some wonderfully drawn characters here, layered and detailed. His script is full of quick fire interaction between the family but director Philip Rawe needs to look at the pace of the piece as lengthy pauses make it hard for the necessary tension to build. This is a strangely clinical production that makes it hard to engage with the Crompton family, nor empathise with the social upheaval they are undergoing. The trigger point for change fizzles rather than explodes as needed.

At times the cast seem uncomfortable with the material, opening night nerves seeing more than a few stumbles over lines, further eroding any growing tension.

There are some nice performances here though, Brenda Caddick nearly stealing the show with her wonderfully observed meddling neighbour Betsy Jane, Michael Cook’s nervous newcomer to the family Arthur and Rosie Fuller’s catalyst for change Hilda. There are a few issues with wandering accents heading off on tour across Lancashire and Yorkshire but hopefully these will settle as the nerves subside.

It is encouraging to see once again Gallery Players being adventurous in their programming choices, hopefully as the run continues the much needed pace and tension will grow but sadly at the moment this isn’t one of Gallery Players finest hours.

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