Written by Peter Drake
Directed by Fraser Haines
Bookclubs sound rather fun, don’t they? Or at least, the idea of them does. Gathering with a bunch of friends, acquaintances and potential strangers, to chat about something for a few hours and lock away the pangs of regular life (and we hear wine is often served at these events too). Bliss.
For Bev, Helen, Louise and Rachel these semi-regular meetings seem daunting as first as they get to grips with one another’s lifestyles and quirks, but gradually tethers form and relationships emerge as the women share experiences, stories and life’s scars. Oh, and sometimes they can be bothered to read the damn book.
A damp day, there’s a canny sense of relatability from the offset to draw in listeners. Fitting for Autumn, here are the only real wet days in Peter Drake’s writing where introducing the cast feels quite stilted and uniform, from hereafter though, there’s a far more natural rhythm as the performers chat, but for now these early days are no representation of the eloquent, touching nature which will emerge.
Gradually, the four leads increase in a natural back and forth which staves off the initial worries of chemistry. By the conclusion of Summer, they play into their own hands after forming a tight network of support and care. As one of the four grows ill, the impacts and trials women of the 21st-century face become evident, as they rally around and realise that, despite their initial complaints, sisterhood is real and potentially life-altering.
Individually, the key characters are separate enough to bounce between (and choose sneaky favourites), but three of the four receive a clearer arc than the last. Nothing down to performance, it just seems that in the drive to discuss online dating, ageing and children, Drake’s writing neglects small areas in favour of tying together threads – a reasonable choice.
Brimming with vim & vigour, Vicky Kelly’s Helen is an immediate presence and balances well against Jude Wilton’s more down-to-earth pessimism. Kelly’s suffering at the constant lampooning at her career in the arts makes for a welcome break (if on the nose) through humour. The pair dip in and out of the narrative, usually lamenting online dating and follies of men, but Louise Drage and Bernadette Wood as Bev and Louise have a prominent role throughout, the pair providing steadfast reliability across the production.
In closing, Summer has the echoes of what could be a potential stage adaptation, to stellar praise. The dynamic shift from every day to lyrical language in discussion with dementia, vision loss and reflective nature is a touching ending which, while sounding a tad less cheerful, maintains a respectful and familial nature. It is here where Drake’s writing accelerates in quality and demonstrates their talent with pathos.
Based in Northampton, White Cobra may claim to be a semi-professional theatre company, but following their initial venture into the audio play genre – it’s safe to say their future stands firmly with experienced production companies.
As with the seasons themselves, Drake’s Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer ebbs and flows with good days and bad, but as a collective piece maintains steady growth, increasing in engagement as the narrative moves through the year. Lacing a pleasant easy listening with nuggets of life’s difficulties and annoyances makes Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer a genuinely human portrayal of ageing and friendship, peppered with a few frostbitten story threads which emerge into Spring as poetic blossoms, performed with exceptional care and dedication from Wood, Kelly, Drage & Wilton
Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer is available to listen here