THE sun-drenched landscape of northern Italy is the setting for Enchanted April, a charming and thoroughly enchanting romcom currently playing at the Mill at Sonning.
Lured by the promise of wisteria and sunshine after the grey of a rain-lashed, post-war London, four genteel ladies answer an advert to rent a medieval castle overlooking the shores of the Mediterranean for a month.
Previously unknown to each other, the quartet are a disparate group, each with their own personal quirks and reasons to escape the strictures and demons in their everyday lives.
The ‘romcom’ description probably does this play something of a disservice, giving the impression that it’s just light-headed, kissy-kissy fluff — which it is not. Below the surface are four women, two in unsatisfactory marriages, another hemmed in by the expectations of aristocratic parents and a 60-something widow who just seems dissatisfied with her lot.
Matthew Barber’s play, adapted from Elizabeth Von Arnim’s 1922 novel, sparkles with enthusiasm and glee. Deftly directed by Sally Hughes, it depicts how initial clashes in personality and petty selfishness gradually soften under the magic of the women’s surroundings. This, together with the arrival of the castle’s owner and a couple of husbands, ensures a feelgood happy ending, with much laughter — after a few twists along the way.
The austere setting of drab London in the first act contrasts so strongly with the sunbathed, honey-coloured castle walls of the second act that we in the audience could well have been transported to Italy during the interval.
Fine performances were delivered throughout — Sarah Edwardson as the high-spirited but bored solicitor’s wife Lottie, Francesca Bailey, the luminous and languid Lady Caroline Bramley, Hildegard Neil, an acid-tongued and condescending Mrs Graves. And Melanie Gutteridge’s buttoned-up Rose Arnott positively blossomed, throwing off her “disappointed Madonna” image to one of happy optimism.
But it was the eye-rolling, arm-waving and general perplexity of Anna-Maria Everett’s Italian-speaking cook Costanza that almost stole the show.
A beguiling play that delivered far more than I was actually expecting.
* Continues to May 17.
Mill at Sonning
Thursday, March 20