Review: Company of Ten ‘revisits its roots’ with Ladies in Lavender

PUBLISHED: 12:58 03 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:58 03 March 2020

Company of Ten's production of Ladies in Lavender at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Company of Ten's production of Ladies in Lavender at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Abbey Theatre

Madeleine Burton reviews Ladies in Lavender at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Company of Ten's production of Ladies in Lavender at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.Company of Ten's production of Ladies in Lavender at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Nostalgia for a gentler time permeates the stage at the Abbey Theatre where the Company of Ten is putting on Ladies in Lavender.

It is set in a pre-World War Two era where two spinsters make cocoa before bed, listen to the radio for entertainment and sort their clothes for jumble sales when required.

But as anyone who saw the film version starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith will recall, all that changes when a young Polish man is washed up on the shore of their Cornish home in a storm.

The sterility of their lives is pushed into the background as they care for the young man, nurse him better and discover that he is a brilliant violinist.

Company of Ten's production of Ladies in Lavender at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.Company of Ten's production of Ladies in Lavender at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Ladies in Lavender by Shaun McKenna is played out on a remarkable Company of Ten set that manages to include the living room, the spare bedroom, the garden, and the beach all in a very limited space.

And as director Alan Bobroff points out in the programme, all the props are authentic as well making it really easy to believe you are looking in on a 1937 cottage and garden.

Shelley Bacall and Tina Swain take the roles of Janet and Ursula Widdington respectively - and for all the gentility of the characters, they are not easy parts to play.

They have to retain their uprightness, integrity and principles even as they become increasingly enamoured of their young charge.

But both actresses grow into their parts and the scene where Ursula, who has patiently taught the young man English, realises that they are going to lose him is genuinely moving.

Comedy comes in the shape of Mike Lees as Dr Mead and Anna Barrett as the down-to-earth housekeeper Dorcas.

John Kenner as the young violinist Andrea is a welcome addition to the Company of Ten and Donna Borg is delightful as Olga Danilof, who discovers Andrea's musical talents.

Ladies in Lavender is set several years after the Company of Ten in 1934 was formed, and it is fitting that the talented St Albans-based theatrical group revisits its roots from time to time.

It runs until this Saturday, March 7, and tickets can be obtained from the box office on 01727 857861 or go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk

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