William Samples and Christine McBeath in People, now at Jericho Arts Centre until Nov. 29. (photo by Adam Henderson)
Character actors are like wine – they only get better with age. Nowhere is this more evident than in the United Players production of English playwright Alan Bennett’s satirical farce People, currently playing at Jericho Arts Centre. Directed by Jewish community member Adam Henderson, it’s cheeky fun served up English style.
Two sisters, Dorothy (Christine McBeath), an aging former model, and June (Kate Robbins), an archdeacon of the local church, have to deal with the decay of their 500-year-old Yorkshire ancestral home, Stacpoole Manor. Dorothy, who lives in the home with her companion Iris (Nancy Amelia Bell), wants to sell off the contents to a London auction house, while June wants to endow the house and its grounds to the National Trust.
The trust is an English charitable institution that preserves and maintains historic homes for the benefit of the “people.” But that means lots of tourists invading the home with their questions and cameras, and Dorothy is a recluse who basically doesn’t like people. By chance, one of her old flames, Mr. Theodore (William Samples), happens upon the manor, and he offers a third option to the sisterly impasse – renting out the home for a porn film shoot. This could get interesting.
The play opens with a glimpse of a porn actor caught in flagrante delicto. Cut to the suave London auctioneer Bevan (Brian Hinson) and then the smarmy National Trust evaluator Mr. Lumsden (Matt Loop) as they traipse through the house eyeing the contents for their respective purposes, each man trying to convince his patron sister of the strength of his option. The audience is introduced to valuable papers, artifacts and a collection of chamberpots famous for their users: George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling and T.S. Eliot, to name a few (with the original contents still intact).
In the meantime, Dorothy, unbeknown to June, opts to let Mr. Theodore and his company into the home to make their film.
The action really picks up in the second act, with the stage transformed into a periodesque bedroom shoot of the porn film Reach for the Thigh (tastefully done, no nudity please, we’re British). Colin (Kevin Hatch) as the male actor and Brit (Charlotte Wright) as his female counterpart (who knits between takes) are hilarious in their four-poster bed passionate romp.
Of course, during the shoot, the bishop (Hamish Cameron) makes an appearance with June to check out the home – luckily, he was having trouble with his new specs and could not really see what was going on. If you haven’t had your fix of double entendres for the night, these scenes ought to satisfy you.
The crew – cameraman Les (Peter Robbins), wardrobe mistress Louise (Demi Pedersen), fashionista grip Bruce (Eric Keogh) and assistant director Nigel (Sidartha Murjani) – rounds out the cast with small, albeit memorable, roles.
McBeath and Samples are superb, and Bell really brings out Iris’ dotty character. Collectively, the actors – many of whom are ex-pat Brits so the accents are authentic – make it all work. The fact that at least half of the cast is over 65 adds to the reality of the production.
The set morphs from decrepitude and decay into sophistication and grace. Kudos to Marcus Stusek for this work and to Marci Jade Herron for her costume designs, from shabby chic for the Stacpoole women (mink coats and sneakers) to edgy togs for the film actors. Charming song and dance routines and nostalgic music from the 1960s (think “Downtown” and Petula Clark) complete the mix.
In the media release, Henderson notes, “We really don’t treat age with much respect, and it’s a youth-obsessed culture. This play goes a long way in dealing with those issues.”
So, you can take the opportunity for deep consideration of contemporary issues or you can just sit back and enjoy a good laugh. Your choice.
For tickets and more information, visit unitedplayers.com or call the box office at 604-224-8007, ext. 2. People runs through to Nov. 29.
Tova Kornfeld is a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.