REVIEW: An amusing look into a grumpy man’s mind

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The Weekend by Michael Palin. Performed by The Warninglid Players, Friday, November 15, Seaforth Hall, Warninglid

Don’t you just love getting the family together for dinner?

Well, some people hate it, which was made perfectly clear in The Warninglid Players’ performance of The Weekend at Seaforth Hall.

The comedy/drama, written by Michael Palin in the ’90s, explores the mind of grumpy old man Stephen Febble as he puts himself through the ordeal of Saturday evening dinner with his family and other acquaintances.

Alan Carter, who has been acting since the ’70s, was wonderfully amusing as Stephen Febble – a cynical, sharp-tongued old curmudgeon who can’t seem to view anything in a positive light. Alan’s well-judged comic timing meant that each of Stephen’s sarcastic quips had the desired effect, leaving the audience well and truly on his side during the first act.

It was easy to see the situation from Stephen’s point-of-view as his family arrived and immediately caused chaos. And who could fail to feel sympathy for a man who has his clothing ruined by a dog that goes to the toilet anywhere?

The misbehaving dog lead to some good slapstick, but some of the funniest moments took place in Stephen’s imagination. His innermost thoughts were conveyed by recordings in some well-executed fantasy scenes where the action froze and Stephen was bathed in the spotlight.

Despite the laughs near the beginning, Alan Carter succeeded in capturing the more serious aspects of the plot as Stephen became drunker, angrier and less funny. This negativity made room for some emotionally charged material near the end.

Jill Bowe was on fine form here as Stephen’s level-headed wife Virginia, clearly exhausted by her husband’s pessimism. Alan Carter also offered a surprisingly sensitive performance when it came to revealing a shocking secret from Stephen’s past. The play’s sad moments still contained humour, though. Just humour of a rather bleak kind.

Despite the focus on Stephen and Virginia’s relationship, The Weekend offered strong performances from all nine cast members. Sharran Rigby Smith was convincing as Stephen’s daughter Diana, clearly fed up with her father’s constant unsociable attitude.

Paul Ruse gave a delightful performance as pretentious chiropodist Hugh Bedales, while Simon Perkins got some big laughs as boring northerner Alan. Rebecca Bond also did well as Charlotte, an intelligent but moody teenager who effortlessly outsmarted Stephen in a game of Scrabble.

Paul Castell and Lesley Jenks offered solid comedic support as Duff and Bridget Gardner, while Val Saunders made the most of a small part, getting some good laughs as the kooky Mrs Finlay.

Overall, this was an engaging amateur production of a sharp and observant play, mixing witty observational humour with the sometimes harsh reality of life.

By Lawrence Smith