Second Thoughts, Civic Hall, Stratford
27 – 30 July 2011
Cider With Rosie is a much-loved autobiographical novel by Laurie Lee, a collection of reminiscences of a small boy growing up in a Gloucestershire village in the 1920s. Not an easy book to turn into a play, then, although there have been a number of attempts. In this version, it is approached by having the character of the adult Laurie Lee narrate an abridged version of the book to the audience, while around him scenes are enacted by an ensemble cast taking on roles as required.
In this production, the cast were not confined to the stage, and in fact most of it takes place on the floor of the auditorium in front of the stage. That’s all to the good, but some consideration should have been given to the audience seating. The slant of the tiered seating, perfect for looking at the stage, was totally wrong for seeing what was happening on the floor, and for those audience members not at the front and not able to see through skulls, much of the action was hidden; the seats were not even staggered, but placed one directly behind another. Coupled with this, the noise made by the ensemble walking and moving chairs, etc on the wooden floor of the auditorium was very intrusive.
The success of a show like this depends heavily on the audience being captivated by the narrator, holding them spellbound with Lee’s fine words. Unfortunately, although David Derrington seemed generally to be performing this part creditably, he was much too quiet and was difficult to hear throughout the first act, leaving us to rely for the most part on the ensemble. Yet, the ensemble pieces were generally rather wooden and unimaginative; the lovely chaos of a house full of children just failed to come across, and the contrast with quiet, reflective scenes was generally absent. In the second act the narrator was easier to hear, whether because of us having got used to it, his being louder, or the fact that there were a number of empty seats after the interval is hard to tell, but it made things a bit easier to follow. The enactments were much the same though.
The book conveys the excitement and wonder of a small boy as he grows into young adulthood in a bewildering world among a loving family. The biggest let down of this show is that it doesn’t really convey any of that feeling and, although the adaptation itself may take some blame for that, much could have been done with attention to technical problems and a more imaginative director. One felt there was untapped potential in the cast, how much is hard to say. As it is, my advice would be to stay home and read the book.