Following on from their ambitious and genuinely fascinating season of work by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, the Orange Tree begin a new season, more loosely themed around plays by women writers.
The first of these is The Years Between, a 1943 play by Daphne Du Maurier, a woman better known as a novelist than a dramatist. Its an apt choice, as the play echoes themes that cropped up often in the last season, about the shifting position of women in society in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Years is set during the Second World War: Diana Wentworths husband Michael has been shot down over the Mediterranean and is missing in action. Aware he is most likely dead she sets about rebuilding and reshaping her life. Over the next three years she stands as a Member of Parliament in her husbands stead and develops a loving relationship with neighbouring farmer Richard, whom she plans to marry. However Michael did not die when his plane went down, he is still alive and Diana must deal with the fact that her husband is about to return, she must acknowledge that the life she has built in his absence will be irreperably changed.
The play makes clear that Michael was a difficult and particular man before he went away, and when he returns, gaunt and clearly traumatised, he is keen for everything to be as it once was. However Diana has grown in confidence during the intervening years, she has taken on responsibilities outside the domestic sphere and is passionate about her career as an MP. This is a world far removed from the life and wife Michael left behind and he struggles to cope. He is scornful of her political ideals and is even reduced to pettily playing loud music as she dictates a speech to her secretary.
Though Michael wishes she were still and quiet as you were before, du Maurier does not paint him as a complete brute, he is a damaged individual, a man mourning a past he is very aware no longer exists. (And his character grows further in complexity when the full reasons behind his prolonged absence are revealed).
Years is a compelling if not outstanding piece of writing and the Orange Trees production is considerably elevated by the strong performances of Karen Ascoe as Diana, a woman pitched into impossible turmoil by the return of the man she was once devoted to but has now learned to live without, and Mark Tandy as the prickly, emotionally complex Michael. There is also a nicely understated turn by Michael Lumsden, as Richard, the man who has fallen in love with Diana while her husband was presumed to be dead.
A couple of overly drawn out scene changes threaten to suck some of the sparkle from Caroline Smiths production (a common problem at the Orange Tree) but it seems fussy to pick when on the whole this is a satisfying experience, one that overrides the somewhat sensationalist premise of the play to deliver a reflective and rewarding evening of theatre.