Margaret Clark reviews Births, Deaths and Marriages

Births, Deaths and Marriages
by Stephen Smith
performed by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by Stephen Smith

My naive belief that writers start with page one and scribble on to the end was turned on its head when playwright Stephen Smith prepared this script. First, came Act III written as a one act play under the title Anniversary for a Festival entry last year where it covered itself in glory coming Second at Cambridge, and awarded Best New Play at Sawston. At that Festival Christine Easterfield won the accolade Best Supporting Actor.

Stephen did not rest on his laurels but then wrote Act I as a one act called Arrival for this year's Festival entry. Deliberating over these "bookends" Stephen decided to write Act II with the title Oncology. Thus he arrived at a full evening's production entitled Births, Deaths and Marriages. For my review I will start with page one and go on to the end.

On page one French windows opened on to a patio, a set that earned Mark Easterfield an award for Set Design at both Sawston and Cambridge Festivals. Anne (Wendy Croft) and her husband, Kevin (David Morris) arrive home from a social engagement to be confronted by Anne's brother Bernard (Michael Husband) - the black sheep of the family. The "Arrival" came in the form of a policewoman (Kattreya Smith) investigating a road accident. Tension built as husband and wife became implicated until Bernard unmasked a young woman seeking retaliation for an abortion due to the action of their son. Kattreya gave a controlled performance as the officer in her pathetic attempt to return the hurt. In a thoroughly believable performance Michael Husband showed us the eternal loser chasing harebrained schemes.

Act II was set in a hospital's Oncology Department and written by Stephen as a tribute to his mother. We were presented with a range of characters including Kevin's mother Edna (Rosemary Eason) and his sister Miriam (Christine Easterfield). The ensemble acting was very good with the aura of depression lifted by the two sisters (Liz Beeson and Caroline Blair), the clinic assistant (Paul Lockwood) constantly faced with the non-arrival of a patient and a second clinic assistant (Cath Perkins). But Connie (Jane Stewart) and Frank (Chris Shinn) were being forced to accept the inevitable parting. Thought provoking exchanges highlighted that the Big C is a great leveller and this act could be a valuable contribution to next year's Festivals.

Act III saw Edna's family celebrating Kevin and Anne's Anniversary. Breaking into the festivities is Kevin's brother, Keith (Tim Boden) in an inebriated state and furious at overhearing Kevin's disparaging remarks on his best man's speech 25 years earlier. During Keith's tirade it becomes apparent that he believes his absence abroad serving in the army was taken advantage of by Kevin to steal and marry his girl. Edna suggests the feud could be solved by the brothers sharing Anne's favours and hints at the paternity of Miriam. The scene included a full range of emotions and concluded with Edna's announcement that she is not long for this world and wishes to see her family reconciled.

There were good performances throughout from Dave Morris as an egocentric business man and Wendy Croft as his long suffering wife. Tim Boden portrayed the erratic behaviour of a possibly traumatised soldier; and Christine Easterfield a convincing performance of a capable unmarried daughter totally thrown by her mother's revelations. Rosemary Eason as mother played a key role in this family saga and showed an effective contrast between the dependent ageing woman in the Oncology Clinic and later the woman of strong opinions formed by life's experiences.

Stephen Smith, director as well as playwright, is to be congratulated on good casting, good performances, a hard working stage crew and a script which balances tragedy and comedy.

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