Ladies in Lavender - Review

Reviewed by Carolyn Watts

As Sydney retreats from some of the coldest July weather in years, theatregoers are in for a heart-warming treat at the Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli.

Perched safely above the chill waters, this intimate theatre on the Harbour's lower north shore is delivering glowing performances of Charles Dance's ‘Ladies in Lavender', adapted for the stage by Shaun McKenna.

Even as we take our seats, the audience is transported to a faraway time. British voices broadcast from a lone wireless bring us to the post WW1 cottage where the narrative will draw us under its spell.

Everything about this performance is both purposeful and effortless; including the wireless snippets that serve to guide our journey through the delicately woven tale of love, loss and community in this twilight between wars.

Set in a cottage on the Cornish coast, McKenna's adaptation works in rhythms reminiscent of the water that surrounds the lives of the play's spinster sisters. The cast and the story shift us between slow moving eddies and unexpected undertows as his eloquent script draws from a palette of jealousy, kindness, grief and acceptance.

The all-star cast give us characters that range from the enigmatic to the sad, unveiling the hurts and joys of a life interrupted by the impacts of war on this coastal town.

Benjamin Hoetjis is Andrea, a beautiful young foreigner stranded and injured, on the sisters' beach.
As Ursula (Sharon Flanagan) and Janet (Penny Cook) nurse him to health, Andrea becomes enmeshed in the weave of the sisters' lives and unwittingly pulls at hidden threads that have held together the small community.

Ursula is a fine blend of childlike awe, jealousy and spite, sewn into a shape that shifts from shy to brazen; without ever challenging credibility.

Her sister Janet, is the astute and crisp study of a woman who has known love and seen it destroyed by war.

Cook's faultless performance accesses, from a polite and superficial beginning, the developed woman who has learned to survive in her mundane world of duty and simple pleasures.

Highlighted by humour and laugh out loud moments, the poignancy of village life is described with equal measures of insight, compassion, and vigour.

Dorcas, (Gael Ballentyne) is the enigmatic ‘home help'. Delivering one-liners that emphasise the currents beneath the story, Dorcas is a vessel of understatement who shows us the true measure of village life.

Dr Mead (Daniel Mitchell) and Olga (Lisa Gormley) complete the story in ways that have us query our moral compass.

All performances are excellent in this is exquisite play that renders perennial issues fresh and intriguing. Ladies in Lavender runs until August 15.