Crackling comedy from the Midhurst Players

Midhurst cemetery Roger Booth, Janine Catterall, Mandy Carr and Janey Delow
Midhurst cemetery Roger Booth, Janine Catterall, Mandy Carr and Janey Delow

Don’t be put off by the title, warns director Julie Tickner. The Cemetery Club really is a comedy, she stresses.

Ivan Menchell’s play is the next production from the Midhurst Players, running at the South Downs Centre Memorial Hall, North Street, Midhurst from Thursday to Saturday, March 15-17.

Three Jewish widows and lifelong friends meet once a month for tea before going to visit their husbands’ graves. Ida is sweet tempered and ready to begin a new life. Lucille is the feisty embodiment of the girl who just wants to have fun, and Doris is priggish and judgmental, particularly when Sam enters the scene.

He meets the widows while visiting his wife’s grave. Doris and Lucille squash the budding romance between Sam and Ida. They are guilt stricken when they nearly break Ida’s heart.

It all adds up to a lot of fun. As Julie says, The Cemetery Club has moments of pathos, moments of comedy and some great, fast-paced witty one-liners: “I have had this on my mental list of plays that I have wanted to do for some time. It has got some lovely parts for women, and I love the humour in it, the New York Jewish humour. It crackles. It is quick repartee between the three main friends. To do a play like this you have got to wait for the right moment, the right cast and the right time, the right combination of everything.

“It is about these three women who have been widowed in recent years. They meet a lot, but they also meet up once a month to go to the cemetery to visit the graves of their respective husbands. It’s a play about their friendship and about how they support each other – and their different reactions. One of them has started dating; one of them is thinking about moving on and not going to the cemetery as much; and the other one is absolutely determined that her husband is the only one for her even though he is dead and that she absolutely won’t countenance anybody else.

“There are two other characters that appear. One of them is the man who sets Ida’s heart racing, and there is another woman who is a bit of a cuckoo in the nest. We have got a composite set, areas that represent parts of the cemetery and in the middle we have got the New York apartment of one of the ladies. We change it with the lighting according to where they are.

“But the most important thing, though, is the relationship between the three women and the humour in the way they react to each other. They used to go out as a six while their husbands were still alive, and you have got to establish that bond between them on stage and how they are coping with the changes in their lives.”

One of the challenges has been getting the New York Jewish accents right: “The sheer amount of lines that the ladies have to learn is a big challenge, but also you need to get the accent and the rhythm of the New York Jewish way of speaking.

“You can do your research on YouTube. There are a number of people doing tutorials on all sorts of accents, and we have also been looking at accents in films and TV shows, but we have also got to find a way of speaking where they will also be easily understood. We are trying to get the accent and the rhythm of speaking while also making sure that it is quite clear to a British audience.”

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