Trail-blazing Hasland Theatre Company triumphs in Ayckbourn’s A Brief History of Women

What a coup, and what a responsibility for Hasland Theatre Company, given the privilege of being the first amateur group to stage one of the latest plays by a legendary dramatist.

Thursday, 14th November 2019, 8:24 am
Jo Davies, as Lady Cynthia Kirkbridge, Georgie Thomas, as Lady Caroline Kirkbridge, Kathryn Hardy, as Rowena ffluke and Taylor Pope as Tony Spates. Photo by Graham Martin.

Hasland director David Brooks turned to his favourite playwright Alan Ayckbourn for this week’s production, A Brief History of Women.

Having watched at least 100 plays directed by Ayckbourn, most of them also written by the Scarborough wordsmith, Brooks clearly knows the man and his writing inside out, and that feeling for the work shone through, aided by co-director Carol Cooper.

A chronicle of social and sexual mores spanning six decades from 1927, the play begins in the setting of Kirkbridge Manor, where two families are meant to be celebrating the engagement of their respective son and daughter, national hero Capt Fergus ffluke and Lady Cynthia Kirkbridge.

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But as ffluke and Cynthia’s boorish father Lord Edward Kirkbridge are holed up in m’Lord’s study discussing in private family fortunes, the mothers of the bride-to-be and her intended are bemoaning the calibre of their menfolk.

“I gave up hope of civilising them years ago,” complains Rowena ffluke, while Lady Caroline, Kirkbridge’s third wife, is turning increasingly tiddly as her seventh Bees’ Knees cocktail hits the spot and she despairs of her own marriage.

After a dejected Cynthia pleads with her mother to extract her fiancé, Caroline gatecrashes the man cave and in the blazing row that follows, Lord K suffers a heart attack which is ultimately fatal. Still fuelled by her cocktails, and even as her husband lies dying, she ignores the stifling conventions of minor aristocracy and flirts with, then kisses, a bemused but willing young manservant, Tony Spates.

Despite the play’s title, this young man, portrayed in a highly promising Hasland debut by Taylor Pope, is the thread running through all four episodes of the story.

Tony’s life and loves take us on to 1947, returning as a teacher to the manor house, now converted to a school, then two decades on as the manager of a trendy arts centre housed in the by now fading glory of the stately pile, and finally as the retired boss of its transformation to a country house hotel.

For the five other main cast members there were multiple roles as the years rolled on, too many to mention, though Kathryn Hardy built on a strong start as Rowena ffluke, and 20 years later the opinionated teacher Phoebe Long.

Georgia Thomas sparkled as Lady Caroline with a crystal glass accent, yet by the 1960s was the dizzy arts centre assistant Pat Wriggly with a lazy twang.
John Fox opened as Fergus ffluke before morphing into a pyrotechnically lethal teacher, then a stroppy socialist actor.

Jo Davies, in her first Hasland appearance, was the frustrated fiancée Cynthia in 1927 but by the 1940s was Tony’s sweetheart Ursula Brock, in an ultimately explosive relationship which defied the school’s rule on staff room romances.

But the showstopper was Dave Banks, totally in character as Welsh headteacher Dr Wyn Williams and then Joyce Grenfell-esque preparing unseen children for their panto roles before emerging as a magnificent dame in Jack and the Beanstalk.

Just as big a challenge was that facing the set designer/makers, props, lighting and sound people and costume team in reflecting so well the manor’s changing faces and the hair and fashion styles of its occupants.

A Brief History of Women continues through to Saturday, nightly at 7.30pm. Box office: 01246 272271.
n Hasland Theatre Company is keen to recruit new members, and especially male actors. See the group’s Facebook page.