Direction overcomes cast challenge

Pentameters’ revival of Noel Coward’s Waiting In The Wings coincides with the 50th anniversary of its last performance, September 7 1960. What a joy it is, but it begs the question as to why the play has been dormant all these years. Perhaps the answer lies in the cast list which requires the talents of nine actresses of a “certain age” to play characters “waiting in the wings” of their retirement home, Wings.

The set has an untidy, lived-in look and the mood is set by Coward’s recordings of his own songs as the characters appear in wonderful theatrical clothes which reach a zenith at their Christmas dinner. Sparkle and colour are everywhere, adding to the pithy and poignant dialogue.

There is joy and companionship in Wings, but sadness – the humiliation of not having managed finances better and having to be cared for – comes through. As Lotta Bainbridge (splendidly played by Juliet Aykroyd) remarks to her long-lost son, who imagines she may want to live with him and his wife: “What is the difference between private and public charity?”

When we reach a certain age, we are all waiting and these retired actresses are indeed waiting and trying to make the best of it. As May Davenport (Frances Cuka) remarks: “Everybody gets used to everything in time.” Actors do not retire but become infirm, old or lose the ability to remember lines, so the characters in Wings have the added sadness of memories of past successes. Sarita Myrtle (Maggie McCourt) is excellent as one who has finally lost her marbles and the concern of her fellow inmates is touching.

Organising a cast of 18 on a small stage is no mean feat but Aline Waites’ casting and masterly direction make this a production well worth seeing. So – it is possible to gather nine older actresses, who can probably remember the time when tea-trays were served during matinees, and successfully revive a play which was a personal favourite of the man himself.

Champagne “fizzes and bubbles and banishes troubles” as a line in the play goes but we needn’t turn to drink to banish troubles, just visit the theatre.

Until September 18.