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A Day by the Sea review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘gently humorous’

John Sackville and Susan Tracy in A Day By The Sea at Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Phillip Gammon
John Sackville and Susan Tracy in A Day By The Sea at Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Phillip Gammon

Written less than a decade after the Second World War, NC Hunter’s A Day by the Sea explores the tribulations of Julian Anson, an unmarried, 40-year-old British diplomat, confronted by his past when he returns to his mother’s seaside home.

As Vaughan Williams' pastoral tones sweep mellifluously across the dunes, there are few clues to the hand-wringing ahead. It’s easy to see why Hunter was compared to Chekhov: his characters loaf about languidly in a rural location discussing metropolitan affairs, long-hidden passions come back to haunt them – and there’s a badly behaved, gin-addled doctor for good measure (David Acton on sparkling form).

As overbearing matriarch Laura, Susan Tracy wittily cuts through the pervading lassitude. She has little time for politicians, but is more concerned about her son’s stalled career and marriage prospects.

John Sackville’s Julian is the picture of stuffy officialdom in a three-piece pin-stripe suit, sporting a moustache. When he meets childhood friend Frances Farrar (Alex Dunmore), their uneasiness hints at unrequited affection. Recently divorced from her second husband and with two small children, she offers a tantalising glimpse of missed opportunities.

Alex Marker’s picture-postcard set frames the action as it switches neatly from house to beach, basking in the summery glow of Neill Brinkworth’s lighting.

More than a mere historical curiosity, A Day by the Sea has much to say about the wider existential uncertainty of its time. Though a little ponderous, it is a worthwhile rediscovery, capably performed under Tricia Thorns’ surefooted direction.

Verdict
Gently humorous if overlong revival of NC Hunter’s 1953 play that still resonates today
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