Review: Separate Tables, Ecclesall Parish Hall

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Terence Rattigan allows us to be a fly on the wall observing the upper middle class mores of the residents of the Beauregard Private Hotel in 1950s Bournemouth.

It’s a quiet and subtle play compared with the more fashionable Osbornesque kitchen sink dramas of the time. The understated emotions of the characters and their often atypical motivations however result in a complex, interesting and effective play.

In act one the articulate but proletariat red, former jail bird and Labour junior minister Mr Malcolm land like a fish out of water among the well-heeled, gossiping female retirees. Malcolm, played by Owain Miller, is surprised to bump into his ex-wife Mrs Shankland, played by real life fiancée Laura Alston. A dysfunctional, explosive relationship carries on where they left off as they try to reconcile the past through psychological warfare and impromptu couple therapy.

Eighteen months pass in the blink of an interval coffee.

The gossipmonger’s new topic is the friendship between a young single lady and a retired major; Sarah Rose and Gerald Brown. Ironically, they bond through a morbid fear of other people.

The unsung heroine of the piece is hotel manageress Miss Cooper, an exquisite performance from Ashleigh Gray. Her non-judgemental and compassionate nature is authentic, selfless Christian morals in action and goes against the typical, doctrinal, sanctimonious, attitudes of the hotel clientele.

Very little happens in terms of action in Rattigan’s play. Ecclesall Theatre Company however skilfully deliver the combination of observational humour and philosophical musing, helped by Graham Millar’s thoughtful direction.