Summat smells funny!

Spring and Port Wine by Bill Naughton at Sir John Mills until Saturday. This is a bright British comedy which invites us gently into the midst of its nice northern humour and then suddenly veers off and presents us with a mystery story: why won’t Hilda eat her herring? It starts a family row of such proportions that, knowing the fish is not ‘off’, we begin to wonder if this particular herring may be red.

This the Sixties you see, the time it may be recalled, when youth started its take-over of the world and Hilda, short-skirted and the youngest daughter of the Crompton household, could well be one of those starting to flex her rebellious muscles. Her brothers, Harold and Wilfred, like to stir matters as well.

It makes things difficult for Rafe, master of the house and a father used to having things his own way. He’s not a martinet. He’s full of rough-hewn love for his wife and children but he’s battered by the baggage of his tough childhood and knows that, without certain rules, life can slip into the sink.

So we’re involved not just with a comedy and a mystery but with a social commentary on a time of great change, a time as difficult for the older generation as it was exciting for the young. Rafe’s style of things is on the way out. Deep down, he knows it but has no idea how to handle it.

The family are not so much frightened of him as anxious to keep the machinery of a modestly comfortable life running without too many spanners jamming the works. His wife, Daisy, produces gags aplenty as she juggles and fiddles the family budget, desperate not to have to ask Rafe for more money.


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Then Hilda, home from a party and a glass or two of port wine, refuses to eat her herring and Rafe turns heavy and says the fish will be produced meal after meal until she does devour it. It’s a bad move that produces a big family backlash, a few clues to the riddle and a lot of laughs.

In this Gallery Players production, James Hayward’s Rafe is strong with a nice touch of vulnerability and lots of pithy northern put-downs. Telling Harold not to interfere in things that he doesn’t understand he says. ‘Don’t dip your nib where there’s no ink.’ Lynne Mortimer’s Daisy is a delight of peacekeeping diplomacy and she has some fun moments with her debt-ridden neighbour played by Brenda Caddick.

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Ruth Hayward and Rosie Fuller weigh in well as daughters Florence and Hilda, as do Thomas Haigh and James Dean as the sons and there’s a good performance from Michael Cook as Florence’s quiet fianc� Arthur who surprisingly helps to stagger Rafe’s ruling reign

DAVID HENSHALL

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