The Darling Buds of May

We all know The Darling Buds of May via the ITV David Jason television version, but I was unaware that it had previously been successful as both a novel and a subsequent stage play adaption. The title itself is from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’): ‘Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May and summer’s lease hath all too short a date’.

It is testimony to the affection inspired by the character created by David Jason that the utterance of the very first ‘perfick’ should bring such a warm response from the large and loyal Bishopstoke audience. Director Louisa Asquith teases nostalgia for a time when a bit of hanky-panky was innocent and tax evasion was viewed as nice work if you could get it.

Colin Carter and Angela Wallis work very well together as Pa and Ma, using only the most subtle of references in speaking tone to hint at the TV versions, which makes their performances unique and individual. There is clear rapport with the younger children, Steph Skeats, Liliah Rose Asquith, Alisha Leigh Lupo, Beth Bowers and Owen Pugh, all of whom should be congratulated for their focus and discipline.

Rob Beadle as Mr Charlton is suitably shy and awkward of the set-up he encounters when pursuing the said tax evasion. His comic timing and energy never fails to impress and his unexpected ‘fall’, complete with glass in hand, produces a genuine laugh-out-loud moment. The Larkins’ bohemian (and for the time quite revolutionary) attitude to life, emphasised and seductive in the character of Mariette (Marie Antoinette shortened) – an all-knowing Becky Griffin – changes his life and he effectively goes ‘sick’ until his old boss, a likeable Pete Burton, forces him to choose between the job and the new lifestyle.

The storyline is peppered with other minor character interactions which serve to show Pa’s entrepreneurial skills, to propel Mr Charlton towards the inevitable wedding to Mariette (the cat fight with Grace Roger’s tarty Pauline with expert strawberry-squishing), or to support the notion that Pa is some kind of sex god forever offering favours to local ladies and girls who just fall at his feet or on top of him. Ma’s taking all of this in her stride, stating that it keeps them ‘sweet’, seems most confusing as Wendy Shehan, Alison Pugh and Jenny Pike queue up to have their carry-on moment as Ma watches in full co-operation and acceptance: but maybe this was a sign of the times and translated better to a 1950s audience. Drew Craddock, Simon Wisbey and Colin Carter show their acting colours as Pa’s friends in the know, Pa always having a large bird available for them, be it goose or pheasant etc, to reward ever more elaborate roguish ways of making money on the side.

The set is particularly impressive, the tree being quite a work of art. Costumes and various props nicely evoke the period, adding charm. The globe drinks trolley is a nice touch alongside the retro fridge – items, we were informed at the interval during the raffle, were sourced via e-Bay to complete the ’fifties look.

Future performances: 19 and 20 May at 7.30.