Bygone life offers much of interest;Set play;Theatre

19th March 1999 at 00:00
CIDER WITH ROSIE By Laurie Lee, adapted by James Roose-Evans. West Glamorgan Theatre

Anyone who knows Laurie Lee's book from John Mortimer's dark television adaptation shown over Christmas will find a contrast in the lighter look of James Roose-Evans' well-established stage version.

But director Geinor Jones believes Lee's picture of rural Gloucestershire life around the end of World War I should interest young people today.

First, there's Laurie's mother, a single mum who is not seen by the community as a drag on them. She brings up three girls from a previous marriage as well as two boys, and devotes her life to this family. She also makes her children care about others: "She sends the children to assist the two grannies even though the children are a bit reticent," says Jones.

This has wider implications: "The children are made to relate to older generations, so they find out where they come from. " And Mrs Lee is a tremendous storyteller; part of the book's (and play's) power is its poetic, weaving of incidents and experiences: Cider with Rosie is more than a day-by-day memoir. It reflects the power of the mother's stories, to which her children listen repeatedly and at length, in contrast to modern children.

Jones appreciates Laurie Lee's non-judgmental approach to this rural community, one with its own laws and which did its own policing. There is a murder, but the victim, Vincent, is someone who travelled abroad to become rich then returns to judge his community and rebuke them for being in awe of the squire. It's as if he brought his death on himself by rejecting his upbringing. In turn, having been robbed, he is rejected by the villagers and left to die in the cold.

But this is no quaint picture of eccentrics, however strange they may seem from a later, urban perspective. These are indeed quirky, individual people but interesting in their own right and existing in a community they could depend upon.

The production fleshes out the Lee children from hints in the book. We see the intelligent Jack having Loll copy his homework and jumping in to finish his mother's sentences. Marge, the oldest sister, is played as a mother substitute who is also creative in her sewing, unlike her younger sister who's jealous but attractive and goes for the young men. Then Phil, the youngest sister, isolated between the older girls and younger boys, finds nobody pays her attention so she turns to books and romances.

Then there's the importance of drinking cider, and the accompanying sexual awakening. This is a society on a cusp, between centuries of tradition and change over which no one present has any control. In parallel there's the continuity of childhood balanced by the need to grow up, stretching back to the time Laurie is exiled from his mother's bed to make room for his younger brother. This, like the harvest-time cider with Rosie, shows the child "pushed through life" into adolescence.

Timothy Ramsden Touring to Belfast, Milford Haven, Porthcawl, Newtown, Brecon, Barnstaple, Newbury, Aberystwyth, Taunton, Bangor, Cardiff. For details, ring: 01639 641771

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