Theatre Review: The Cemetery Club by Ivan Menchell
This play came as something of a surprise to American audiences when it was first produced in 1987. The author is very well known in the USA as a writer of sitcoms, and audiences were expecting to see the kind of thing that they had seen on their televisions transferred to a stage. What they got was something much better. Written in a style reminiscent of Neil Simon, who penned such delights as ‘The Odd Couple’ Menchell has created a play that is warm, darkly humorous and with moments of real sadness that provide the perfect balance for the witty one liners.
The Cemetery Club of the title is a group of three ladies who meet for tea each month before going on to visit the graves of their husbands. Lucille is a real live wire; a flirty man eater making up for her former husband’s philandering. Margaret Smyth plays the role beautifully and the knowing asides to the audience make us feel as if we are being drawn into view of life. Doris is her complete opposite, devoting her life to her dead husband and using the visits to the cemetery to bring him up-to-date with everything going. Di Scott plays her to perfection, the fondness that she has for the memory of her late husband being as clear as her distaste for the behaviour of Lucille. In the middle of all this is Ida.
From the first moment we know that Ida is the sensible one in the relationship. It is in her apartment that the ladies meet and she has an attitude of patient understanding toward both her friends. Characters that do not have any outstanding mannerisms or attitudes are the most difficult to play but Audrey Stock copes magnificently and is very much the star of the show. In her hands Ida is likeable, dependable and welcome in our hearts.
The ladies visit the cemetery where Doris chats to her late husband aimlessly, Lucille berates hers for never coming home at night and Ida asks hers if he would mind if she started dating. Cue the entry of Sam, who just happens to be there to tend the grave of his wife. It is, naturally, Lucille who pounces on him and is so engrossed in trying to pull him that Doris becomes furious at her behaviour and an argument ensues. Is this to be the end of the Cemetery Club, or is it, as Lucille suggests, time to recruit some new members?
Back at Ida’s apartment Sam appears and it is time to fasten your seatbelts, we’re in for a bumpy ride! Phil Manning plays the part of Sam with a quiet confidence. A little embarrassed by the attention he is getting, he comes over as a modest, kind man, but there is more to him than that, as the audience soon find out.
The competition has started but who will get their man? I won’t give it away but the appearance of Mildred, a rather tarty individual wonderfully portrayed by Kerry Newall, will tell you that things do not run as smoothly as anyone might have hoped.
By the time this play reaches its conclusion the audience will have been through a whirlwind of emotions. It is touching yet funny. There is loss, loneliness and the difficulties faced when trying to move on and yet by the end I felt uplifted and happy in the knowledge that I’d had a great evening of entertainment.
The Cemetery Club runs from April 23rd to 25th at Byley Village Hall. Tickets are available by calling 01606 832325.