Fondly Remembered

Apr 30 2019 | By More

★★★★☆    Involving

St Ninian’s Hall: Mon 29 Apr – Sat 4 May 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

Edinburgh Theatre Arts’ Fondly Remembered, at St Ninian’s until Saturday, is a production of considerable charm and emotional truth.

Gareth Armstrong’s 2015 comedy deals with a group of disparate theatre folk gathering after the death of an ex-colleague who affected their life in different ways.

Writer Gareth Armstrong (centre) joins director David McCallum (left) and cast members Danny Farrimond, Edith Peers, Lorna Dixon, Michael McLernan and Derek Marshall, backstage after Tuesday’s show. Pic: John McLinden.

The subject matter might suggest something much darker and edgier than the gentle, almost frothy comedy that results. Armstrong is a thoroughly experienced actor as well as writer (with his stints in The Archers certainly to the fore here) and the play shows a deep familiarity with the theatre and those who inhabit it.

It is an oddly structured piece, however. In one sense it is beautifully put together – the way characters are introduced, with their interactions delineating their characters and drip-feeding the necessary information, is wonderfully handled. However, the splitting of the second half into two sits oddly, and the last scene is both unrealistic and utterly predictable.

While there is never really a sense that the departed Douglas is the magnetic figure he needs to be for the whole thing to make sense, what does ring true is the dynamic between the on-stage characters. This demonstrates the considerable strength of this production – the genuine ensemble feel the cast and director David McCallum have generated.

You do believe that these are real people who have known each other for many years. In particular the various two-handed scenes are beautifully done, with McCallum’s razor-sharp direction generating considerable emotional pull.

convincingly brittle

Derek Marshall’s blustering, self-important actor has a wonderfully crumpled sympathy to him, while Lorna Dixon’s disappointed stage manager is convincingly brittle.

Edith Peers gives what could be a thoroughly annoying role – a ‘national treasure’ utterly lacking in self-awareness and prone to malapropisms – real charm. Danny Farrimond’s ageing juvenile also could be a grating character, but is done with similar gleeful complexity.

Michael McLernan’s city whizz kid-turned-vicar suffers from not being one of the old gang, and from having motivations that are rather more difficult to believe, but he still manages an interesting characterisation.

There is enough likeability here to skate over some of the more tired gags about the lack of sophistication of theatre audiences unlucky enough to live outside London (perish the thought), and the odd reference that sits awkwardly with a play obviously written so recently. Finlay Black’s beautifully sturdy set, Colin McPherson’s diligent lighting and Farrimond’s sound design help to make a production that is technically very impressive.

Barring the odd unsteady moment early on (entirely excusable on a first night), the performances are equally effective. More than that, the whole thing is extremely likeable – which is no mean feat, and definitely not as effortless as the cast and director make it look.

Running time 1 hour 45 minutes including one interval
St Ninian’s Hall, 40 Comely Bank, EH4 1AG
Monday 29 April –Saturday 4 May 2019
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Facebook: @edinburghtheatrearts.


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