Hāwera Repertory's production of Love Begins at 50 has finally opened, after delays and a change of location because of Covid-19.
Every cloud has a silver lining however, and not only is this play definitely one that is worth having waited for, but the change of location, from the originally planned Hāwera Memorial Theatre to the smaller, more intimate Hāwera Repertory House is a win.
The audience can't help but feel they really are flies on the walls of the home of Clive and Anita Debanks, as the couple bicker and snark their way through what is clearly a less-than-perfect marriage.
Director Charles Pittams can be truly proud of this production, from choosing the right play itself, to the great, thoughtful casting, his experience shows in every step of the process.
Ben Thomas and Lorraine Wilkie, as Clive and Anita, are the perfectly mismatched couple and they bring a real energy to the stage in all their scenes together. The character of Anita could be quite one-dimensional, but not when Lorraine is cast in the role; the skilled actress makes Anita far more than just a few bitter and pithy one-liners. Ben also brings real depth to the role of Clive, while still keeping up the quick pace of the dialogue and action.
While the scenes between the bickering couple are undoubtedly funny, some of the best moments in the play are when Clive and Anita's best friends Jack, played by Donald Campbell, and Claire, played by Deborah Clough, are on stage.
Deborah is hilarious to watch, especially as the farce progresses and she and Jack begin a romance of their own, albeit a somewhat one-sided romance. Donald is the perfect foil for Deborah and their scenes together get some of the loudest laughs from the audience.
While the opening scenes bring plenty to laugh at, it is as Clive begins his foray into the world of blind dates through the local paper's lonely hearts column, at the same time his wife enters them into a competition, in the same paper, to find the perfect couple, that the farce really picks up pace.
Emily Davidson as Annabell, one of Clive's potential dates, is great fun to watch, and she brings a level of confidence that really ups the energy on stage. Cherol Filbee, as potential date number two Mavis Leggett, has the audience in hysterics the moment she steps out from the wings and you can't help but wish the playwright had given Mavis a larger role, and perhaps he would have had he met Cherol and been able to imagine her as the character.
Kristy Logan, as the sweetly shy third potential date Emily, provides good balance, especially for Clive as he compares her soft nature to the sharper sides of Anita perhaps. Her scenes with Ben are nicely played and it is easy for the audience to believe their story as it plays out on the stage, particularly the couch, in front of them.
As the farce progresses, the newspaper sends a photographer to capture some snapshots of the allegedly happy Mr and Mrs Debanks, and Shane Martin does a fantastic job of bringing the happy-go-lucky Cockney photographer to life, and in full colour, as he cajoles who he thinks make up the happy couple into posing for what turn out to be some very important pictures.
The final member of the cast, Anne Larcom, plays Tracy, Clive and Anita's grown-up and incredibly spoilt daughter. She might be the youngest actor on stage in this production, but she is by no means any less talented than the others. In fact, Anne steals the show at times, as she stamps her feet, flings herself around and makes it all about herself. She has a real maturity in her acting that enables her to ensure the farcical nature of the plot doesn't make her character any less convincing or relatable. If this is the performance she can give as a young woman just leaving high school, just imagine what her future holds.
As always, a fantastic production such as this one is thanks not just to the cast, but the crew behind the scenes, and they all did a fantastic job in this. The set was perfectly presented, while wardrobe, especially when it came to the clothing worn by Cherol's character, was well thought out. The props team also did a great job (watch out for the fish) while lighting and sound were as flawless as ever.