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On Golden Pond
Next Stage Theatre Company
The Mission Theatre

Next Stage has a well-deserved reputation for high standards of performance, and they fail to disappoint with this latest offering – Ernest Thompson’s On Golden Pond. With a script that jumps nimbly between morbidity and mockery, the whole cast are given ample opportunity to demonstrate excellent comic timing, while at the same time treating the difficult subjects of impending dementia and declining health with great sympathy.

On Golden Pond has its protagonists in Norman (Dave Dunn) and Ethel Thayer (Joanna Bowman) – an aging couple spending the summer, as always, at their lakeside home in Maine. It is clear early on that Norman’s memory is fading, providing the basis for both some of the funniest and most poignant scenes of the play. Particularly memorable was Norman’s return from a strawberry picking trip empty-handed, attempting to hide his discomfort in bluster but eventually admitting to his concerned wife that he had failed to recognise the once-familiar countryside. Dave Dunn and Joanna Bowman have an easy, affectionate rapport that fits well with the wry back-and-forth of an old married couple, and they adeptly swing the audience between laughter and quiet melancholy.

Claire Rumball gives a touching performance as Chelsea – the couple’s daughter whose relationship with Norman is tense at best – toeing the line between buried adolescent angst and a desire for an adult relationship with her parents. The introduction of Bill Ray (Richard Matthews) – the man she later marries – gives Norman plenty of opportunity to demonstrate what an awkward so-and-so he is, and a beautifully awkward exchange between the two regarding sleeping arrangements had the audience in fits of giggles. James Langley, who plays Bill’s son with a cheeky insouciance, is definitely one to watch as he rises to the challenge of softening some of Norman’s harder edges.

Scene transitions were occasionally a little drawn out, but the use of music was effective and enhanced the feeling of overall nostalgia.

All in all, an excellent production – one that left the audience smiling (if a little sadly), and had a lady who mistook me for a member of the company inform me that I should be very proud. The compliment is well deserved.

Louise Heavey

On Golden Pond runs until Sat 14 Sept. Tickets are £11/£9 and available by phoning 01225 428600.