Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

The Happiest Days of Your Life
 by John Dighton   directed by Colin Lawrence

The ADC Theatre, Cambridge, April 2004

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A Review of the Happiest Days of Your Life
by Julie Petrucci

Directed for Bawds by Colin Lawrence, this play was first performed in 1948 at the Apollo Theatre in London. John Dighton, who is perhaps best known for writing this well-loved farce, also co-wrote (with Frank Launder) the film adaptation in 1950, which starred Alistair Sim as Mr. Pond, Margaret Rutherford as Miss Whitchurch and, in one of her best-remembered roles, Joyce Grenfell as Miss Gossage - one of the most unforgettable films ever.  Did the play appear dated and how ever would I be able to avoid those film performances colouring my view of this stage presentation?

The story is set at the end of WWII.  The pupils and teachers of a South Coast girls' school (St Swithin's) are relocated to alternative accommodation as their own school has been a casualty of wartime bombing.  Thanks to a bureaucratic mix-up, they wind up sharing the quarters of a boys' school (Hilary Hall) in Hampshire. The harried headmaster and headmistress, together with both sets of teachers, try to keep visiting parents from discovering the dilemma as the whole thing turns into a battle of the sexes.  These problems are forgotten however when news is received that a third school is to join them and all unite to repel boarders.

The costumes and the single set (designed by Carole Sammon) certainly captured the period, although I must take issue with the white square waste paper basket placed down stage right throughout, which was very modern. Act 1 was the usual scene-setting-introducing-characters act and what characters.  Derek Matravers (Dick Tassell) and Dave Foyle (Rupert Billings) worked together with tremendous empathy, a great double act, both tailor-made for their roles.  Ron Meadows as Headmaster Godfrey Pond, got off to a bit of a hesitant start but more than compensated for it once into his stride, and Derek Brown was splendid in the role of Rainbow the Caretaker. he must surely be the founder of the Academy of School Caretaker Training.
 
What can I say about Caroline Law's Miss Evelyn Whitchurch MA (Oxon), except Margaret Who? Here was the definitive portrayal of a domineering headmistress, coupled with superb timing and wonderful reactions.  Lindsey McAuley was called upon to show us her sweet natured side in the role of Joyce Harper, which she did in her customary talented way, a far cry from the Bolshie Bridget in A Chorus of Disapproval.  Amanda Matravers too gave a good, if rather understated, performance as Miss Gosage.  I would have preferred a bit more heartiness coupled with more coyness when trying to seduce poor Mr B.  The young members of the cast didn't let the side down either. Chris Smithson as Hopcroft Minor and Hannah Smith as Barbara Cahoun dealt with their difficult on and off roles extremely well.  Carol Gerza and Nick Warburton as the gentle, kindly and completely mesmerised parents of Julia Peck and Andrew Waller and Rosie Wilson as the bombastic, awkward Sowters completed this talented cast.

The essence of farce is timing and this was a confident, well-paced production.  After the scene setting Act 1 came the frenetic mayhem of Act 2 with heads and teachers of both schools trying to keep the two sets of parents apart and Rainbow back and forth exchanging netball posts for cricket nets with grumbling reluctance.  This all worked very well but I would liked to have seen the moment held at the end of Act 2 when Pond and the two masters came bounding in dressed in gymslips, rather than running straight on and off.  Great visual curtain line that.  Act 3 of course degenerates into total chaos.  This was handled with such noise and energy that some of the dialogue was lost and I am not certain the 'proposal', of Dick Tassell to Miss Harper, was heard by many in the audience.

For all that a great evening.  This play stood the test of time incredibly well and I didn't find myself comparing actors with their screen counterparts at all.  10/10.