Fondly Remembered review – Theatre at the Tabard

Image: Full cast of Fondly Remembered L to R – Rosemary Ashe, Barbara Wilshere, Robin Kermode, William Relton, Jeremy Booth

A play by local playwright Gareth Armstrong which is ‘warm, easy to like and with some feelgood fun moments’

Gareth Armstrong returns to the Theatre at the Tabard after last year’s A Critical Stage with a revival of his 2015 play, Fondly Remembered.

Armstrong also directs and in doing so has gathered together five hugely experienced stalwarts of the stage in a play that starts rather ominously in the back room of a church under the watchful gaze of a glowing red Jesus statue, but turns into a celebration of the chaos of theatrical life.

The plot is simple: four actor friends meet in a dilapidated choir room to plan a memorial service for a departed colleague, Douglas. The Reverend Tom is anxious to learn about the deceased in order to compose a fitting eulogy and encourages the friends to reminisce.

Memories are mined and stories from the past emerge to build a picture of the late Douglas; of course, there are a few surprises in store.

Image: Jeremy Booth as the Reverend Thomas Haldane

As the Reverend Thomas Haldane, Jeremy Booth makes a welcome return to the Tabard stage as a convincing man of God, one who is contending with “falling numbers, falling collections” but who is somehow hanging on.

Despite being a vicar of the “non-stipendiary” type, he is able to indulge a love of sports cars thanks to an earlier life in the city, serving Mammon. He is both humble, describing the room as “a bit gloomy I’m afraid”, and eager to be professional, wanting to truly “get some idea of Douglas’ life”.

The four friends are played by a fine ensemble cast who get equal stage time and are a joy to watch.

Image: Rosemary Ashe Barbara Wilshere and William Relton

Barbara Wilshere as Cressida Brent is by turns practical and prone to tears as she recalls her past relationship with the departed but is also determined to honour his memory with due respect.

Rosemary Ashe’s Zoe Seymour has had the good fortune to play a leading role in a Radio 4 soap which has similarities to The Archers, but lives with the constant fear of her character being written out one day, her scatty vulnerability highlights well the fundamental precariousness of an actor’s life, even when they appear to be doing well.

READ ALSO: West End performer Rosemary Ashe returns to Theatre at the Tabard

Robin Kermode as Donald Sowerby is acerbic and vulnerable, apparently managing his alcoholism but nursing deep seated anger. He is sniffy about Zoe’s soap opera character having spent his career as a serious actor, all “struggling and angst” but his bluster hides a bitter and angry man whose wife has left him.

Finally, William Relton is Barry Dumont, not quite believing his good fortune in having a handsome and rich young husband (the unseen Dimitri) who despite their “different ages, languages, cultures…” is simply happy and living in the moment. He is the most settled of the friends and looks on sagely as the drama unfolds.

Image: Robin Kermode Barbara Wilshere and Rosemary Ashe

Hovering over it all is the spirit of the deceased, an apparent atheist who was a secret church goer, someone who made his name in experimental theatre in Harlepool and who once stole some Arts Council money, leaving his struggling colleagues unpaid.

His influence on the lives of his friends forms the core of the story and it is here perhaps, that the play lacks bite. There is enough in the characters’ shared past to spark some higher stakes confrontation, and this is a cast that would rise to the occasion. That said, this is a play that is warm, easy to like and with some feelgood fun moments.

Fondly Remembered runs until 15 June.

Book tickets: Fondly Remembered