The Anniversary

by Bill MacIlwraith

14th – 16th May 1981

Mother keeps a tight hold on all three of her sons with gifts, threats and ruthless exploitation of their weaknesses. But as the family is unwillingly brought together to celebrate Mum’s wedding anniversary (regardless of deceased Dad), revolt is in the air. One son gathers the courage to tell Mum he is moving to Canada, another breaks the news of his impending marriage, and Mum finds her long ascendancy is broken at last.

anniversary prog

The Cast

Tom: Nick Roberts
Shirley: Janet Booth
Henry: John Sanford
Terry: Eric Saxton
Karen: Mary Warrington
Mum: Elizabeth Saxton

Produced by Mary Warrington

Newbury Weekly News review

Play a credit to Compton’s new producer

It’s a bit of a blow when you’re halfway through producing a play, to find yourself called upon to take a leading part as well! This is what happened to Mary Warrington of the Compton Players in her very first venture into producing.

They were well on the way with The Anniversary by Bill McIlwraith when Marjorie Treacher fell ill. Elizabeth Saxton was moved up to the leading role of “Mum” and Mary had to take on a major part as the daughter-in-law. In spite of this it was an excellent production and the new producer is to be congratulated.

The part of Mum is a challenge to any actress – it even tempted Bette Davis some years ago in a film version. She is not a nice Mum, she is an evil woman who gets her pleasure from driving her sons to their limit in the building of second-rate houses – (no wonder such essentials as a damp course or the kitchen floorboards seem to get left out) – and tearing their domestic life apart with barbed innuendos, taunts, bribes and open threats. There must be a bit of a sadist in all of us, to judge by the constant laughter from the audience as sons, daughter-in-law and girl-friend writhed in torment. It’s the sheer breathtaking effrontery of Mum’s rudeness – (“Would you mind sitting further away, Shirley – I can’t stand B. O.”) – that makes you laugh. By the end of the play, though still laughing, you begin to feel quite battered by the family’s sufferings.

Henry, the eldest son, has an unfortunate habit of stealing ladies underwear. Mum sweetly overlooks this until she needs it as a weapon of blackmail, then look out, Henry! Terry and his wife Karen want to break loose and take their five children to Canada. Mum will stop at nothing to prevent it. Tom, who makes no secret of his hatred, has brought his new fiancée to the anniversary celebration, knowing full well that Mum will do her damnedest to break up the engagement.

So the whole evening is a series of skirmishes in the battle to get the better of Mum. Henry is a bit of a by-stander, Terry is a deserter when the going gets hot and Tom is like a terrier who rushes into the fray but retires yelping, when he finds himself outclassed. But the women are made of sterner stuff. Karen, the battle-scarred warrior, bends but does not break under attack, while Shirley, for all her sweet appearance, hides a fighting spirit and gives as good as she gets. It’s lovely to watch them go into action.

And on the other side is the formidable Mum, seeking out the chinks in their armour, aiming her blows with stunning effect below the belt, even using her glass eye as ammunition to frighten the unsuspecting.

Elizabeth Saxton gave an outstanding performance in spite of her youth – common beneath a thin veneer of refinement, smiling with false charm when at her most venomous an never faltering in the taxing dialogue. As Karen, the long-suffering daughter-in-law, Mary Warrington brought passion, warmth and humour, while Eric Saxton as her indecisive husband was careful not to dominate the stage as he so easily could. We never thought he’d get up the courage to defy Mum, but when he finally did we felt like echoing Karen’s wild hot of triumph. Nick Roberts was well cast as Tom, the likeable rebel, Janet Booth was an attractive and spirited Shirley and John Sanford as Henry raised frequent laughter with his look of wide-eyed innocence.

When I congratulated the producer on a smooth production, she said that a week ago two of the cast were ill in bed. How’s that for brinkmanship? Amateur actors certainly lead an exciting life.