Theatre review – Gladys: A Beverley Love Story

Our theatre reviewer, Hannah Hobson, shares her thoughts on Gladys: A Beverley Love Story at East Riding Theatre.

All photography: Sara Krüger

There is always something beautiful about a play that speaks across generation divides. East Riding Theatre’s ‘Gladys’, subtitled ‘A Beverley Love Story’, is a warm exploration of love, life, death, and ageing which transcends the specificities of age to reach the universalities of humanity. It follows Gladys and her husband Alfie, as well as friend Daphne, through the fleeting moments which define their lives. Whether that be Wednesdays at the Tea-cosy or the simple joys of doing the crossword together.

Jane McLauchlan’s script has a slightly odd structure; it is a play with two distinct halves separated by the interval. It is possible that the play is a rework of two of McLauchlan’s earlier plays into one cohesive narrative (Gladys and Alfie and Gladys and Daphne, respectively) and I must admit the stories benefit by being paired. I can’t imagine leaving Gladys where we find her at the end of act one, nor can I imagine watching act two without the additional context of the first half. Despite this, I did feel the play lacked cohesion and felt more that I was watching two one-act plays rather than a complete narrative whole. That said, McLauchlan’s characterisation and light touch with dialogue well makes up for any structural stumbling blocks. All three characters are so well drawn, so effortlessly sympathetic and so subtly rendered as to be completely compelling.

The credit for this beautiful characterisation must be given, in part, to the phenomenal cast East Riding Theatre has assembled. As the titular Gladys, Jacqueline Naylor paints a beautiful portrait of a woman perhaps a little sheltered, with a stubborn outlook and a great envy for her peers. She makes full use of the intimate staging to tell emotional minutiae with a twitch of a lip or the shake of a hand. Andrew Dunn and Candida Gubbins frame Naylor’s performance well as her narrative foils. Dunn as Alfie is a well-timed and solid partner to Gladys, matching her concerns with his reassurances. Scenes between Dunn and Naylor are a joy to watch. The arrival of Gubbins’ Daphne marks a significant change in the play’s tone, so she seems to drop on the play like a confetti cannon, opening up Gladys’ world and the second act. That is not to say that Gubbins’ performance is all vivacity and no substance, far from it – beneath the chirpy exterior, she layers Daphne with pathos as she tries to rediscover her purpose, partly through her relationship with Gladys.

This is a play with a lot of locations, all represented well via Michael Carlton’s set and lighting. So that the actors can move freely from scene to scene, the various locations have been marked out in little areas around the stage – a bench here to symbolise the Westwood, some municipal chairs for a doctor’s office and so on. This is a clever concept and the movement from one place to the next is disguised by projection work to music, with snapshots of Beverley through time to golden oldie hits. This functions to establish tone as we shift from scene to scene, a stroke of genius from directors Mike Friend and Adrian Rawlins. For the most part the touch of the directors is feather light, leaving the cast with the room to shine. The staging is slick and naturalistic. While the long scene changes did, occasionally, slow down the pacing, the projections were distracting enough to keep us engaged and it avoided any scrambling to get from one scene to another.

All in all, ‘Gladys’ is a play which suits the intimacy of the auditorium at East Riding Theatre. It is subtle and well-directed, with characters so engaging and familiar that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them. I challenge anyone not to leave the theatre a little misty-eyed.

[Hannah Hobson – Theatre reviewer]