Spring and Port Wine

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

What better place to revive this Bill Naughton classic, than his home town of Bolton, and in the beautiful setting of The Octagon Theatre. This venue compliments the play greatly: bringing us into the bossom of the Crompton family home. Here we meet the Cromptons: four adult children still living at home and their seemingly polar opposite parents – Daisy (Mina Anwar) and Rafe (Les Dennis).

The Crompton household is ruled by the iron fist of patriarch Rafe. It is where every penny is checked and accounted for, nobody goes without, and everyone contributes. While the siblings in the house feel bullied and stifled by their father and sorry for what their mother puts up with: Rafe, in his mind, feels like he is protecting his family and keeping them from hardship. Quite the opposite to their nosey and overfamiliar neighbour Betsy-Jane (Isabel Ford), who lives her life hiding behind the curtains in order to avoid the last person she borrowed a fiver from.

As the play begins, a series of events unfold, after youngest daughter Hilda (Natalie Blair) refuses to eat her Friday night tea of herring, much to her fathers annoyance. The consequences of this act of defiance are felt by all family members throughout the play. 

The script is sharp and witty. The set is well thought out and works so well in the round. There is much nostalgia with the set and costumes and music too. 

The cast are excellent, they tell the story so well. It is warm and funny and at times heartbreaking. And although this play is set in a time gone by, there are so many themes that we can identify with in our own more modern family lives. The lack of communication, parental disapproval, unconditional love and sibling rivalry.

Mina Anwar is outstanding as Daisy Crompton, she is hilarious when she needs to be, vulnerable in moments and at times you can feel her warmth wrap around you like the big hug only a mother could give. She and Les Dennis work wonderfully together on stage, and really engage us as an audience. Dennis shines when the armour of his character softens.

All four of the Crompton siblings should be congratulated in their performances, from Natalie Blair’s hilarious expressions and mannerisms of Hilda, to Gabriel Clark and Harold Ryan’s characterisations of the Crompton brothers, to Monica Sagar’s beautifully performed interpretation of serious sister Florence. Adam Fenton is excellent as the fiancé of Florence, who is seemingly the first person to stand up to Rafe. While the greatest laughs went to Isabel Ford for her hilarious portrayal of Betsy-Jane.

This play, performed 60 years after it was written doesn’t break down any barriers, or challenge our thinking in anyway, but it entertains, it’s wholesome, heartwarming and it’s told very well, by an excellent cast and in a fabulous setting. I laughed and laughed and I can’t think of a better reason to visit Bolton on a Tuesday night.

Spring and Port Wine is on at The Octagon until Saturday 4th March tickets available here.

All images by Pamela Raith Photography

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