Review: Good Things at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City

PUBLISHED: 13:08 15 May 2017 | UPDATED: 08:59 16 May 2017

Linda Vincent as Susan and Paul Russell as Fraser in Good Things at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

Linda Vincent as Susan and Paul Russell as Fraser in Good Things at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

John Davies

Good Things by Liz Lochhead has opened at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Maggie Blackburn reviews the play.

Belinda Gee as Natalie and Paul Russell as Fraser in Good Things at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]Belinda Gee as Natalie and Paul Russell as Fraser in Good Things at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

My knowledge of Liz Lochead’s work is mainly of her down-to-earth, highly accessible poetry, but she has also written several equally down-to earth plays, most notably for BBC radio and television.

She has an accurate ear for the intricacies of everyday speech, and a warm sympathy for ordinary people and the difficulties with which life confronts them.

Good Things is no exception. Set in a charity shop, it centres around Susan, a volunteer still reeling from the desertion of her husband to a younger woman, and her initially disastrous search for a new partner.

It’s a funny play, but it never sacrifices reality for the sake of a gag.

Paul Russell as Fraser and Belinda Gee as Scotch Doris in Good Things at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]Paul Russell as Fraser and Belinda Gee as Scotch Doris in Good Things at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

Whilst sympathetic, it is not sentimental, and is at one point fearless in its realism.

It has what is best described not as a completely happy ending, but at least a very hopeful one. I liked this play a lot, especially for its honesty and its deep understanding of human relationships.

Susan is played with conviction by Linda Vincent, in a confident and naturalistic performance.

David, the widower who seems likely to be her eventual salvation, is played with skill and sympathy by Keith Swainston.

Paul Russell as Fraser and Keith Swainston as David in Good Things at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]Paul Russell as Fraser and Keith Swainston as David in Good Things at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

He is a fine actor, and one can easily understand Susan’s liking for the character he plays.

I have seen neither him nor Linda at the Barn before, and I am continually impressed by this theatre’s ability to cast new talent – not a common virtue on the non-professional stage.

Many other characters appear throughout the piece: several customers, a policeman and policewoman, the shop’s manageress, and a fellow volunteer.

Unbelievably, they are all played by just two actors, Belinda Gee and Paul Russell.

Linda Vincent as Susan and Belinda Gee as Scotch Doris in Good Things at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]Linda Vincent as Susan and Belinda Gee as Scotch Doris in Good Things at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

Lots of fun to be had when one of them appears in a new guise from stage left, just minutes after disappearing as someone else stage right.

Disaster must be never far away in such an arrangement, but at no moment could I detect the least sign of panic or perspiration in either actor. Well done – and a tribute to the directorial skill of Darren Barsby.

Liz Lochhead is not the only writer to have made an entertaining virtue out of the need of modern theatres to save on actors’ salaries, but in this instance I believe it might have been better to have had one additional actor to play just one character: Fraser, the sympathetic, slightly camp fellow volunteer whose affection for Susan turns out to be not quite as platonic as we might have first assumed.

This is a truly excellent performance by Paul Russell, played with clarity, subtlety, and not the slightest hint of exaggeration.

He is equally impressive in the more minor parts, but their generally more comic requirements serve in my opinion as a distraction from our enjoyment of the major role.

To sum up, some excellent performances in a warm-hearted and beautifully written piece.

• Good Things plays at the Barn Theatre until Saturday, May 20, with evening performances at 8pm and a 2.30pm matinee on the final day of the run.

Tickets cost £12. Call the Barn Theatre box office on 01707 324300 or book online at www.barntheatre.co.uk

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