‘The Anniversary’ is a 1966 very black but hilarious comedy, written in three Acts by London-born actor, dramatist and film scriptwriter, Bill MacIlwraith, who died aged 88 two years ago this month. The 1968 film version of this play had Bette Davis as the domineering mother. MacIlwraith was also a leading TV scriptwriter, writing episodes of a dozen extremely well known series from the ‘Human Jungle’ to ‘Armchair Theatre’ for two decades. This unique form of comedy is being presented by the Darlington Theatre Players Inc., at Marloo Theatre, 20 Marloo Road, Greenmount. Curtain up on this 2-hour comedy is at 8.00 pm each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, until Saturday 19th May with Sunday matinées on 29th April and the 6th and 13th May at 2.00 pm. The scene: is Mrs Taggart’s comfortable home in south west London in 1966. George Boyd’s set: is a smart lounge with azure blue walls and white woodwork. At the rear of the room is an upright piano. To one side of the room is a china cabinet containing a lifetime of treasures, and an oak, drinks cabinet. Across the room are the French doors leading to the garden. Centre stage was a two-seater settee and three matching armchairs. George’s well-conceived sets are never simply three walls at right angles, but he always has recesses and interesting wall angles, which adds realism to the appearance. The set was solidly constructed by the cast. Lesley Sutton’s quality furnishings and props are always numerous and perfect for the ‘era’. Shelly Miller’s costumes brought a smile, with flares and a kipper tie for one actor, along with a knee-length kaftan dress for an actress – memories of the mid-1960s flashed back. The lifelike and subtle sound effects were the work of George Boyd. Michael Hart’s lighting design, with realistic effects was operated by Brendan Tobin. I thought Brendan had missed a lighting cue, before realising this was intentional and the first laugh out loud joke of the play.
The sitting room door opens, and the youngest Taggart, Tom the philandering wanton son, (Benedict Chau) puts on the lights. He has brought home his attractive pregnant fiancée, Shirley (Ellie Bawden) for the memorial gathering on the anniversary of his father’s death. The oldest brother, caring considerate Henry (Paul Reed), who has an unusual hobby, arrives home closely followed by the spineless Terry (Luke Miller) and his nervous, shy wife, Karen (Shelly Miller) who are about to emigrate with their five children.
Karen immediately warns young Shirley about her widowed mother-in-law. ‘Mum’ Taggart (Jacqui Warner) is a domineering, evil, vindictive, manipulative matriarch – and these are her good points. The three sons all work in the family’s shonky builder’s business, where the mother is the boss.
Will poor Shirley be accepted into the family?
The director, Rob Warner and his assistant director Brendan Tobin have chosen a magnificent cast. They have guided the performers to deliver most of their dialogue at a normal voice level and standard speaking pace. The performances were subtle, with the use of body language and facial expressions conveying the family’s innermost feelings. The atmosphere in the room was meant to be that of a loving family, and it was until ‘Mum’ started; with her jaw dropping comments and attitudes that left even the most street-cred audience member stunned. This cast had perfect chemistry and rapport. With Tom determined to embarrass his mother, but just how much support would he receive from the others? Jacqui Warner was magnificent as the bitch ‘puppeteer’ mother (and that is being polite), who managed to pull the strings on every family member. This unique play is a must see. If you think you have the family member from Hell, then seeing ‘Mum’ will make you feel so much happier with your own relations. Perhaps wear garlic around your neck and carry a crucifix. Great acting, and a very clever script presented in a comfortable environment. Highly recommended.