Drama group set for Coward-ly challenge

Ann Brignall, Maureen Payne (Director) Sue Pierce
Ann Brignall, Maureen Payne (Director) Sue Pierce

MAUREEN Payne, director of the autumn production for the ’53 Drama Group, has set herself an interesting challenge.

She has chosen a Noël Coward play, Waiting in the Wings, which has an unusual cast – there are 14 women and just four men.

The play is set in a charity retirement home for actresses (called The Wings).

No state pensions for these ladies in the 1950s and as Ann Brignall, a leading actress, points out “being successful is no protection against old age”.

Almost all the women’s roles require what could tactfully be referred to as “mature” performers.

Maureen, who has had a very successful professional career on stage and screen, feels strongly that the ’53 Drama Group has great depth in acting ability among the women members and that this is “a chance to showcase their talents in a unique setting” – indeed, the majority of the cast are longstanding members, so there is a special rapport between them.

Waiting in the Wings is not one of Coward’s best known plays, but it has all the ingredients for which this master dramatist is renowned – satire, subtlety, humour, and acutely observed characters.

The story centres around a feud between a longstanding resident (May Davenport) and a newly-arrived retired actress (Lotta Bainbridge), who both loved the same man. These two women, closeted together within a group of once-famous actresses, confront each other and the past.

Maureen herself took the role of Lotta some years ago, and became absorbed in the compassion and the humour in the play. Ann Brignall, who plays May, enjoys both the opportunity to “let rip” on the negative side of a personality, and the evolution of May’s feelings as her understanding of the past changes.

Sue Pierce, who appears as Lotta, sees the play as a “beautifully crafted study of women growing older, their fears, frustrations, foibles and vanities”.

Waiting in the Wings comes to the stage at Saltburn Community Theatre from Tuesday 18 to Friday 21 October, though there is no performance on Saturday 20 October). Perfomances begin at 7.30pm, and tickets are £6 (£5 consessions), available from Saltburn Health Shop.