Review: On Golden Pond by Ernest Thompson at Colchester Mercury until Saturday.

Norman and Ethel Thayer have spent the last 48 summers of their lives at their holiday home by the lake known as Golden Pond in the New England State of Maine. They’ve never wanted to go anywhere else, like abroad.

Not very adventurous for a noted professor emeritus of English you might think, very old-fashioned, but this is an old-fashioned play and a complete delight, relying entirely on the wit of the words and the ability of the cast to tell what amounts to a very simple story.

It is also something of an occasion because a big star of films and TV, Stefanie Powers, has the role of Ethel and she’s very good indeed. But Norman is the mainspring of the piece and Richard Johnson has got him completely nailed, a curmudgeon and stirrer of the first order who knowingly misunderstands and misleads. And he’s got some cracking lines in a script that bubbles and sometimes crackles with good humour.

Norman is a man who thinks he is getting his own way in all things but Ethel manages him without his really knowing it and they seem set for another summer of fishing, berry-picking and a quiet celebration of Norman’s 80th birthday when Chelsea, their daughter and only child, arrives with her new boyfriend Bill and his 14-year-old son Billy.

Chelsea and her dad have not been close for a long time and she is anxious to heal what is wrong between them. But first she and Bill are off to Europe to have some time together and they want to leave Billy with Norman and Ethel.

Norman’s not very keen but agrees and eventually his relationship with the youngster becomes good and important. “Billy’s been the best thing that’s happened for Norman since Roosevelt,” says Ethel. We perhaps wonder if it wasn’t a boy that he had really always wanted and this sparks new resentments when Chelsea returns. But it’s never too heavy and the laughs keep coming.

Stefanie Powers is a gentle Ethel who plays Norman a bit like the fish he’s so fond of catching in what is a very assured performance and she has some great lines of her own. Elizabeth Carling is a winning worried Chelsea, Tom Roberts does a nice job as Bill trying to create a good impression and Graeme Dalling is the boy who amusingly teaches Norman the cool language of youth.

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As a movie the reshaped On Golden Pond won three Oscars. I much prefer this original version.

David Henshall.

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