Studio Theatre Studio Theatre, Salisbury Anne Waggott 28 March 2023
Widowed 30 years ago, Margaret Harvey has cocooned herself in a safe haven with her daughter, Rebecca, in their comfy little cottage in a British seaside town. When Rebecca bites the bullet and moves out to start a new life with her partner (the unseen Pete), she ‘invites’ visiting artist, Milton Farnsworth, to be her mother’s new lodger… setting her mother up with a potential source of income as well as a second chance of love…
I am familiar with playwright Philip Goulding’s work, having reviewed on a number of occasions The Titfield Thunderbolt (including Studio Theatre’s version a few years ago), without realising that he has such close local connections to the area. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find that his younger brother has directed Studio Theatre’s current production of A Fine Bright Day Today!
This deeper understanding of the play by the production team has led to ‘fine bright’ performances within Goulding’s genteel rural comedy. Performed with a relaxed calming tempo in an intimate setting of a cosy, compact, ‘lived in’ cottage (complete with working kitchen!), and framed by the outdoor elements of the fishing village, this production is a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life.
However, make no mistake, the comfortable pace is deceptive of the skill involved with this kind of observational situation comedy! Props are never easy to deal with at the best of times, so the dexterity shown with a multitude of perfect props by the trio of actors, whilst faultlessly delivering their dialogue, is exceptional. Add cooking, eating and drinking onstage into the equation, and their proficiency is even more impressive!
With atmospheric lighting and effects, superbly timed and accurate locational sound effects, and a lilting original musical score to cover the scene changes (carried out in character by the cast), you might be forgiven for thinking this is ‘just’ a visually aesthetically pleasing production – and yet it is much more than this.
The cast, alongside first class direction, bring a warmth, humanity and authenticity to their roles that is heart-warming, amusing and poignant. Sharon Lloyd (Margaret) and Claire Brooks (Rebecca) capture relationship dynamics with a combination of mutual deference and resistance, and a protective nature whilst urging the other to break free, both with camaraderie and status, in all the complexities of a bond unique to a mother and daughter. Paul Chalmers (Milton), with an almost textbook American drawl, is a charming, engaging and sympathetic character, full of grace and tranquillity as Milton’s kindness breaks down Margaret’s walls to unlock the affectionate and affable woman underneath a sometimes brusque exterior. His monologues directly to the audience add another layer of narration that moves the story along at a peaceful pace.
As a gentle slow burner, A Fine Bright Day Today is a very fine way to spend an evening! I’m used to seeing Studio Theatre packed out, so it was a shame to see a number of empty seats last night, probably because the play is an unfamiliar one to most casual theatregoers. However, if you have a free evening and are in the vicinity, do yourself a favour and head down to Studio Theatre where you will be sure of a very warm welcome and an extremely enjoyable production! A Fine Bright Day Today runs until Saturday 1 April at 7.30pm each evening.