Aldeburgh: Climbing the Wall

Climbing The Wall: Andy Powrie, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until Saturday; St Edmund's Hall, Southwold from Monday until September 5

Climbing The Wall: Andy Powrie, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until Saturday; St Edmund's Hall, Southwold from Monday until September 5

As the lights go down, you hear the strains of Elmer Bernstein's theme from The Great Escape. You know, immediately, you're in for a theatrical leg-pull.

Ingenuity, defiance and heroics there will be, but not from Allied prisoners-of war. The people desperate to climb the wall and make a bid of freedom are two spirited old ladies trapped in a retirement home.

Andy Powrie writes and directs this night of parody, spoof and whimsy, which features Jill Freud and Jane Evers in the lead roles of Dorothy and Ruth.

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These two highly intelligent and with-it old dears are bored silly in what to them is a prison, where half-witted visitors come in to talk down to them.

Why not try counting flies, suggests Ruth, to help dispel the monotony.

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There's a dark side that gives the comedy edge. The ladies' helplessness in the hands of people supposedly doing things for their own good is scary. What's worse, they're at the mercy of a menacingly corrupt home director (played greasily by Cal McCrystal), a man with a record of being left money by women who die while in his care.

What's more, Dorothy's son (Paul Leonard) and his vacuous wife, are after getting their hands on mother's valuable Walberswick property.

Trying every trick you see in escape movies - knotted sheets, tunnels, and the laundry bag - the girls try and try again. They get caught every time, are marched back and put in the cooler. Fortunately though, they're always able mete revenge with a barbed and funny remark.

Then, with a little help from some unlikely friends - a trucker (also Cal McCrystal) and an actuary turned Hell's Angel (also Paul Leonard, at his comic caricature best) - things begin to turn around.

It's a film genre send-up, done cinematically, with lots of short comic skit scenes done on quickly shifted ingenious sets.

Jill Freud and Jane Evers as the endlessly enterprising and conniving old ladies are just the ticket. Jane's character has a manic gleam in her eye. She'd gladly strangle those who make her life a misery.

My final word must be for Jill Freud. She is such a good comedy actress, a giving performer. She's physically amazing and every innocently wicked thought Dorothy has is expressed in her eyes, ready for us to pick up instantly. A continuing class act.

Ivan Howlett

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