Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Spring And Port Wine

Bill Naughton
Coliseum Production
Oldham Cooiseum
13 April 2017 to 29 April 2017

With mostly just the Royal Exchange these days flying the city centre flag for home-grown productions of plays - since the much-lamented demise of the Library Theatre - those Greater Manchester theatregoers who want more of the well-made drama are obliged to travel to Bolton or Oldham.

And talking about the Library, up pops their former artistic director Chris Honer to take charge of the Coliseum production of this once ubiquitous northern kitchen sink comedy.

And talking of Bolton, that of course is where Naughton’s evergreen bittersweet slice of 1960s family life is set.

It’s a character-driven piece that harks back to what is not only another century but also seems like another world. Though it’s one definitely on the change, the cotton mills are still there and Dad works in the engine shed. Was all of that just such a short time ago? Seems so…

Rafe Crompton (James Quinn) is a tyrannical father trying to maintain authority over his four children and uphold his traditional standards. He’s fighting a losing battle and generally making everyone around him miserable.

When youngest daughter Hilda (Lauren Dickenson) decides she has had enough of being bossed, she turns up her nose at the teatime herring. Rafe takes a principled stand against her, decreeing the offending fish must be put in front of her at every meal until she eats it.

Meanwhile, wife Daisy (Karen Henthorn) is struggling not only with refereeing but also the household finances as she gets deeper into debt after lending a neighbour a fiver.

It isn’t and never was a great work of art but Naughton has a certain knack of telling a tale with believable characters and enough dramatic impetus to carry it all through while just about steering on the acceptable side of cliché and injecting plenty of humour.

Whenever it’s dusted off it’s pretty much a sure-fire audience pleaser and so it proves here.

I liked Gareth Cassidy’s suitor Arthur and Joseph Carter’s elder son Harold for their confident performances. Henthorn has a movingly convincing final scene with Quinn, in which she has to admit to her deceptions. But, like several of the others, she started out hesitantly on the first night.

The whole thing needed a little more running in when I saw it. Quinn’s curtain speech said it’s booking well and I’m not surprised, it usually does. I see from the performance calendar that the show I saw was probably the first in front of a paying audience, when usually at the Coliseum I'd be invited to the second, presumably Easter Bank Holidays affecting the normal procedure. When it settles it’ll be fine.

Reviewer: Alan Hulme


Comment by Paul Genty

Like a lot of playwrights from this period who weren't among theatre's sometimes ridiculous avant garde, Naughton knew how to write stories and more than that, how to write characters. Here Daisy Crompton (Karen Henthorn) is a touchingly down to earth mother hen trying to keep her chicks from harm  - and James Quinn as Rafe is a typical rooster, all noise and enough bite to get his own way and no more.

While the story might have softened into quaintness over the past 53 years, the lives of the family members depicted here remain lively and honest to family life and for that reason among others, this is well worth the price of a ticket. 

Comment by Diana Stenson

The Coliseum excels, as it should, with these Northern ding-dongs at the family tea table and  this is just the vehicle, especially on the cusp of  the 60s. 

As Alan says, Rafe Crompton is the domineering forceful father who keeps a meticulous weekly tot of the housekeeping and his desk  is permanently locked - that is until the frightful scrounging neighbour Betsy gets to work with a bent hairpin, a comic turn from Isabel Ford.    Elder sister Florence in her smart working suit is the clever mathematical one taking after Dad's skill with sums and Kate Dobson is a perfect po-faced daughter who knows how to manipulate them all, including her likeable intended Arthur.

The last isolated word of dialogue is the ultimate clue to a family preparing to face up to the Swinging Era.

Comment by Robert Beale

My, how times have changed. And not just in the disappearance of the mills and jobs for life. I don't think you'd find many trade union stalwarts who are also domineering fathers and admirers of Handel's Largo and Hallelujah Chorus these days, either. It's - as always with Chris Honer - beautifully paced and precisely observed. There are some very good performances, too - I really rate James Quinn's (horrible though Rafe is!), and I liked the youthful 60s exuberance of Joseph Carter (Harold).