A heartwarming ensemble piece

Ivan Menchell’s The Cemetery Club, Seaford Little Theatre’ latest offering, is now a regular of the amateur repertoire: gentle, not edgy, no bad language, and not controversial about some issue du jour.

It’s a simple story. Three Jewish widows, long-time friends, meet once a month for tea, then visit their husbands’ graves. There’s sweet Ida, happy in her memories of Murray and in no hurry to “move on”; nascent party girl Lucille, who’s finally getting payback against her unfaithful Harry; and Doris, whose devotion to Abe, even in death, seems borderline unhealthy.

Things are going along swimmingly until the arrival of Sam, a shy butcher whose deceased wife is buried in the same cemetery as their husbands. Sam is immediately pounced on by a purring Lucille, but it’s Ida that Sam has doe-eyes for. The romance threatens to destroy the women’s friendship, first because Lucille wants Sam for herself, later because Lucille and Doris make a misguided attempt to save Ida froml heartbreak.

Skilfully directed by Cathryn Parker, her cast walked the tightrope between sly and slapstick. They also pulled off what are so often the banes of amateurs – judging the pace and nailing the accent.

This is an ensemble piece, but Trish Richings (Lucille) gave us an over-the-top Bette Midler performance. Ida was subtly played by Sylvia Aston, and her touching moments with Sam (Alan Lade) were a tender counterpoint to the broad humour of the rest. Doris (Mary Young) gave us a sincere reading of the devoted widow and Sue Shephard had a telling cameo as Mildred, Sam’s substitute wedding guest.

Cathyrn Parker also designed the most effective set – half New York apartment and half cemetery and the strains of Klezmer and Jewish folk music wafting through the auditorium reminded us constantly of the the culture within which this comedy is set.

A thoroughly rewarding evening, proving once more that when a cast and director are totally in sync, and attention to detail is paramount, amateur theatre can touch the heights – and the heartstrings.

By Derek Watts