Life between the wars
New Era Players: This Happy Breed, at New Era Theatre, Wash Common,
from Thursday, June 2 to Saturday, June 11
Think of Noël Coward and you probably think of upper class wit and
sophistication, but This Happy Breed is more EastEnders than Mayfair. Its
the story of a family and their neighbours in the inter-war years from 1919
to 1939. When Frank Gibbons returns from the war he moves into a house on
Clapham Common with his wife Ethel and his teenage children. The fortunes of
the family, and the country, go up and down over the next twenty years, and
the play explores some of the social changes taking place. Finally, with all
the children gone, Frank and Ethel move out to a smaller house.
Frank, as head of the family, is the pivotal character and David Zeke gave
it just the right mixture of gravitas and frivolity, the latter when out
boozing with Bob, his neighbour and mate from the war, a rather gormless
individual well portrayed by David Tute.
Ethel, Franks put-upon wife, has a lot to cope with and gets more
embittered as time goes on. This was a very strong performance by Kathleen
Ray; our hearts went out to her as she came to terms with the death of her
son and the alienation of her daughter.
Val Maskell, as Ethels mother, and Janet Bennett, as Franks sister,
sparred well together, and there was a nice bit of comedy from Dawn Sellick
as the blowsy maid Edie.
The three Gibbons children, Reg (Neal Dewdney), Queenie (Rachel Lashford)
and Vi (Nicola Sowden) coped well with the transition from childhood to
maturity. Queenie had a real problem with the lifestyle at home (I hate it
its all so common), and Rachel Lashford caught her anguish well as she
decided to give up the boy next door whom she didn't love for the married
man she was infatuated with. This boy next door was Bobs son Billy, an
uncomplicated but loyal lad, well played by Jed Shardlow, who gets his girl
in the end.
Stuart Hillman was good as Sam the socialist, who matures when he gets
married, and Georgie Gale gave a delightful performance as Regs wife
The play was a bit too long but director Lisa Harringtons strong and varied
cast yet again showed New Eras excellence.