REVIEW: Feel-good production has plenty of lovable characters

Pictures by Luise Cartwright
Pictures by Luise Cartwright

The Darling Buds of May, The Archway Theatre Company, Horley, Thursday, December 5

If you watched television in the early ’90s chances are you’re familiar with The Darling Buds of May.

Pictures by Luise Cartwright

Pictures by Luise Cartwright

The popular series, based on the books by H.E. Bates, is fondly remembered for starring David Jason and a young Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Members of The Archway Theatre Company must have had their work cut out for them to compete with such an iconic show but they have admirably risen to the challenge.

The play focuses on the Larkins, a family living in a little piece of rural paradise, who have a love of good food and drink and little concern for the outside world.

When uptight tax inspector Mr Charlton arrives it seems as though he’s going to disrupt the harmony but Mr Charton simply can’t resist the family’s charms.

Dolena Richmond and Craig Wayland are lovable as the laid back Ma and Pop Larkin, two characters who clearly care about each other and don’t feel the need to have their relationship made ‘official’ by the government.

Craig Wayland gets a lot of laughs as Pop Larkin, managing to find a fresh take on his cheeky character without resorting to a David Jason impression.

Stuart Finlayson is good as Mr Charlton as well – a timid, introverted bureaucrat who finds his self-confidence with the family. He plays a funny drunk too, as the Larkins ply the character with their unique alcoholic concoctions.

Hannah Elmer is convincing as Mariette, playing the confident eldest daughter with a wild edge. Her character isn’t afraid of honest, healthy desire for an attractive lad and, like the rest of the Larkins, she succeeds by working with her natural instincts instead of against them.

All this good natured fun could lead the audience to think there isn’t going to be any conflict. However, we do get a satisfying showdown between Mr Charlton and his boss (John Davis).

There’s also a comic catfight between Mariette and Pauline (Lisa Ray playing the haughty rival for Mr Charlton’s affections), which provides an amusing display of hair-pulling, shoe-throwing fury.

The set, designed by Gary Andrews, is simple but surprisingly realistic, presenting a small section of the Larkin household and the garden in front of a colourful painted backdrop. This, combined with the bright lighting, creates a convincing sense of summer.

The cast is large for a small-stage production but all 16 actors do a superb job.

The party scene, for example, could have been a disaster with so many performers interacting with each other at the same time. Instead, it’s a real highlight of the show, as the performers all do something uniquely interesting.

Director Joy Matthews successfully creates the impression of looking in on a real community event and, with this show as a whole, presents a fascinating slice of rural life.

By Lawrence Smith