The Anniversary - performed March 1988

By Bill MacIlwraith

Performed with the kind permission of Samuel French

Director - Dennis Murfitt


(in order of appearance)

Tom Adrian Bolton
Shirley Alison Brett
Henry Dave Turrell
Terry Bernie Brindley
Karen Jill Laurie
Mum Valerie Williams

Production Team

Val Taylor, Viv Wheatley, Jude Hussey, Jenny Rollings, , Chris Mason, Bruce Emeny, Maurice Barber, Dennis Murfitt, Greg Garrad, Alison Brett, Jenny Glayzer, Gill Baxter, Patience Ling, Viv Wheatley, and other volunteers not mentioned.

The Play

It’s Mum’s wedding anniversary, and despite the fact that Dad has been dead for some years, her 3 sons are obliged to gather for the annual celebration - a restaurant meal with prawn cocktail for starters, followed by ‘party pieces’ from the brothers and a bonfire back at the family home afterwards.

Two of the sons have something important to tell Mum. Terry, the brooding middle son, wants to leave the family building business to immigrate to Canada with his wife, Karen, and their 5 children. And the youngest offspring, Tom, wants to marry his latest girlfriend, Shirley. The sons’ dilemma is how and when to convey their news – that is, if they can summon the nerve to tell her at all. Because Mum is the Matriarch from Hell! Evil, wicked, malevolent and fanatically possessive, this one-eyed widow is used to getting her way by any means that delivers the desired outcome and preserves her world in tact with her family securely (and slavishly) tied to her apron strings.


How do they do it? Year after year the Manifest Theatre Group stages a series of productions with rarely a disappointment among them. The latest offering is Bill Macllwraith’s The Anniversary and once again supporters of the Manningtree-based company can sit back and enjoy another first rate evening’s entertainment. The story is set in the present and revolves around a domineering mother celebrating her wedding anniversary, despite being a widow. The way the mother order the lives of her three sons to suit herself and how this leads to friction between the brothers and the wife of one and the fiancée of another struck a familiar chord among at least one member of the audience.

Just six players are used in the action, covering about four hours of one evening. The six are on-stage most the time and all give very good performances. No doubt most of the audience would nominate the star as mum Valerie Williams, making her debut with the Manifest but she was nowhere near as frightening as my mother-in-law and I would put sons Dave Turrell and Bernie Brindley slightly ahead, if only their wonderfully expressive faces.
My only criticism would be the quality of the sound effects especially that of five young children.
My four were never that quiet!
Leslie Pallet

Bill McCilwraith’s brilliant black comedy is based on the hold exerted by their foul mother on her three sons – through blackmail, bribes and ruthless exploitation of their individual weaknesses. It is an uncomfortable play in that something of the ugly side of each character is there to be recognised in ourselves. But it remains very funny indeed even when, here, mistakenly updated to the present day from its original mid-sixties which had a totally different ambience and flavour.
This said, the only flaws in Dennis Murfitt’s first-rate production were a tendency towards a quick shuffle of positions to avoid masking on this tiny stage; a blazing row settled comfortably into settee and armchairs’ and most important of all, the inability to create the lingering presence of the thankfully departed Dad in the sterile holy of holies that was at once his shrine and his epitaph.

Adrian Bolton, a shade short of the brash cockiness of the character initially, grew into Tom very well indeed as the unlovely action developed and Alison Brett’s naivety Shirely made him a wholly convincing avenue of escape. Bernie Brindley’s ulcer and guilt-ridden Terry, tied to his Mother by a tragic childhood accident, was excellent and Jill Laurie, somewhat muted to begin with flared into positive attack as soon as her long-suffering husband’s pathetic attempts to break the relationship were threatened.
Dave Turrell’s Henry, seeking solace and gratification by stealing ladies’ underwear from the neighbourhood linen-lines, touched in the sadness of the character with delicacy and paradoxical humour. Valerie Williams’ central maternal figure was exceptionally well handled. Always in control of the part and herself, she cleverly suggested the possessive evil of a woman hell-bent on destroying any hint of goodness and kindness in others simply because such qualities were not to be found and enjoyed in herself.

The set was very well designed in a small space, though the up-dating meant that the piano was replaced by an organ; the cocktail cabinet, which would have been opulent and highly polished walnut, became a nasty cheap multi-store piece of tat; and the automatic opening and closing of the curtains, something of an innovation in 1966, was done away with altogether.
Nevertheless the direction and the overall playing homed in on the essence of the play splendidly and I laughed a lot as well as being held.
Jimmy James

Photo Shoot

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