Groping For Words
by Sue Townsend
performed by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by Linden Leeke
Sue Townsend's play about adult literacy is a sympathetic and, at times, comedic view of a social problem, which affects more people than society, cares to admit. In Groping For Words, the students' ignorance is as much a stumbling block as their fear of not being able to read or write.
Selecting this particular play as her directorial debut, Linden Leeke, took on a considerable challenge. Set in the 1980s with its references to Margaret Thatcher and The Archers (an unlikely pairing, I know) we follow the progress of four quite different individuals. George is a middle-aged northerner whose lack of reading abilities has ultimately cost him his job, wife and family. Thelma, is a young nanny who has clearly suffered from learning difficulties all of her life. Their tutor, Joyce, the wife of a GP, is struggling to impart some learning to her students whilst at the same time reassessing her marital situation. Set in the nursery classroom of a local school, complete with Wendy House, both tutor and students are continually at the mercy of the fourth character, the caretaker, Kevin, an obnoxious and, as we soon discover, illiterate bully.
A realistic and extremely well dressed split set showing us both classroom and reception area allowed the action to flow. A more imaginative use of the limited space during the many static sequences would have added to the visual interest. The overall pace needed more variety and would have produced more impact from the performances. There is a great deal of hidden humour and pathos in this play, but it wasn't always apparent. Extending this variety to the delivery of some of the more intimate passages of dialogue would have helped illustrate these moments to better effect.
This was clearly a team of actors who worked well together. Ron Meadows as George gave a well-measured and sympathetic performance providing us with good examples of how to time the delivery of lines. His lifestyle wasn't immediately obvious from his appearance, which could have been shabbier. Bernardine Orrock as Joyce left us wondering whether Joyce's heart was really in the task she had set herself. Her mock seduction of Kevin, giving him some of his own medicine, could have been more intimidating. Her interaction with both George and Thelma nicely illustrated her concern for their situation and her own fears. Catherine Perkins as Thelma with her frequent childlike tantrums was well-observed, but at times this meant relying too much on delivering her lines at the same level. Martin George as the loutish Kevin with his overbearing tone and language to match showed us the face of ignorance and bigotry to good effect.
The director's attempt to bring the script to life was a worthy one. With solid material and a strong cast it would have been difficult not to succeed. A firmer approach to the general pace and a more attention to character detail and verbal delivery would have made the experience more rewarding and produced a tighter and more focussed result. That said this was an entertaining production of a good play and well worth the trip to Waterbeach on a rainy evening.
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