The Cemetery Club

Mar 14 2019 | By More

★★★★☆    Gravely good

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 13 –Sat 16 Mar 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Cemetery Club is a low-key, deeply traditional play, but in the hands of Edinburgh People’s Theatre it has a gentle resonance that is rather affecting.

Ivan Menchell’s play – written in the late 1980s but apparently set some ten years earlier – is a tale of widows from the New York Jewish community whose friendship is threatened by the interest a widowed kosher butcher takes in one of their number. It is somewhat reminiscent of Neil Simon. Despite dealing with death and bereavement, it is more bittersweet than acerbic, with gentle wisecracks and not a little sentimentality.

Lynn Cameron, Helen E Nix. Pic: Terry Railley

The Cemetery Club is, however, a tightly constructed piece, with some finely turned dialogue, which helps to make up for the fact that the developments in the story are easy to predict and take a long time in arriving.

John Somerville’s direction is thoughtful and supportive of the cast, and there is a genuine warmth and reality to the performances. This plays into the real strength of the script – that, in dealing with a very specific community, it manages to tap into some basic truths about the universal human need to be loved and to feel wanted.

It is surprisingly easy to feel that we are in New York – accent coach Dani Morse-Kopp comes in for specific thanks in the programme, and for good reason. The fact that the peculiarly Central Scotland pronunciation of the ‘oo’ sound is so noticeable only shows how accomplished everything else about the vocal performances is.

Perhaps a concentration on getting the voices right means that the dialogue loses a little of the pace it would need to truly crackle; this, added to a certain stateliness in the direction, makes the production drag ever so slightly. However, the care taken in making the performances so believable more than makes up for this.

raw and sympathetic humanity

Pat Johnson’s Ida, who is ready to start a new chapter in her life, is given an excellent combination of world-weariness and giddy anticipation. Lynn Cameron’s Doris, the longest widowed but most keen to cling on to the past, could come over as tiresomely judgmental, but Lynn Cameron gives her a raw and sympathetic humanity. Helen E. Nix, as the apparent man-eater Lucille, has to display the largest variety of emotions and does so extremely well – as well as excelling in some broad comedy.

Helen E Nix, Pat Johnson, Cameron. Pic: Terry Railley

There are some very funny moments here, not least in some spot-on drunk acting. Sheila Somerville’s Mildred also provides a beautifully judged humorous cameo.

Graham Bell’s Sam the butcher is a relatively serious foil to the other characters, but his performance – a combination of eagerness and diffidence, always with something of a twinkle in his eye – is highly effective.

There is the trademark EPT attention to detail with props, while Alistair Brown’s set is impressive; the transitions between the two settings the play uses are well handled.

Despite being resolutely ‘heartwarming’, there is always enough grit to stop it becoming cloying, and the realism of the performances makes this a production with considerable emotional impact.

Running time 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 13– Saturday 16 March2019
Wed-Fri at 7.30 pm; Sat 2.30 pm
EPT website:
Facebook: @EdinburghPeoplesTheatre.

Pat Johnson, Graham Bell and Helen E Nix. Pic: Terry Railley


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Comments (2)

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  1. Patricia Templeton says:

    Lovely performance and many light touches. We particularly enjoyed Helen Nix’ portrayal, comedic and sad at the same time … well done!

  2. Suzanne Senior says:

    Very well-paced, with equal helpings of humour and humanity, this production was very enjoyable. Well done to everyone!