Separate Tables - performed October 1981

By Terence Rattigan

Performed with the kind permission of Samuel French

Director - Dennis Murfitt


(in order of appearance)

Table One
Mabel Judy Hussey
Lady Mathieson Pamela Talbot-Ashby
Mrs Railton-Bell Valerie Taylor
Miss Meacham Vivienne Wheatley
Doreen Vanessa Giles
Mr Fowler Herbert Yeates
Mrs Shankland Marion Pollard
Miss Cooper Janet Green
Mr Malcolm William Chapman
Mr Stratton Kevin Brown
Miss Tanner Yvonne Cobbold

Table Two
Mrs Stratton Yvonne Cobbold
Mr Stratton Kevin Brown
Major Pollock Dennis Murfitt
Mr Fowler Herbert Yeates
Miss Cooper Janet Green
Mrs Railton-Bell Valerie Taylor
Miss Railton-Bell Frances Brown
Lady Mathieson Pamela Talbot-Ashby
Miss Meacham Vivienne Wheatley
Doreen Vanessa Giles

Production Team

Peter Westbrook, Jenny Rollings, Bill Kempster, Bruce Emeny, Maurice Barber, Kevin Brown, June Wendon, Gill Baxter, Dennis Murfitt, Derek Cobbold, Geoffrey Taylor, Valerie Taylor, Sally Mann, Jack Hacon, Ian & Ann Tucker, Patience Ling, Viv Wheatley, and other volunteers not mentioned.

The Play

These two plays are set in a shabby genteel hotel on England's south coast. Except for the two leads in each (which may be doubled) the same characters appear in both. In Table by the Window, a down at the heels journalist is confronted by his ex wife, a former model who provoked him to a violent act that sent him to prison and ruined him. Still loving each other, they nevertheless go through another terrible scene and it is the hotel manager, Miss Cooper, who finds a way to repair their broken lives. In Table Number Seven, a bogus army officer without the background and education he claims and a neurotic girl with a ruthless domineering mother are attracted to each other. A sordid scandal threatens to drive them apart, but when all seems lost Miss Cooper comes to the rescue.


Yet another success can be recorded for the Manifest Theatre Group with its latest play Separate Tables, by Terence Rattigan. This is the group’s first attempt at serious drama, and shows the range of talents it can offer. Musicals, comedies and now drama – what else can the members stretch to?
The presentation of Separate Tables was worthy of a larger first night audience on Monday than the former British Legion Hall in Manningtree can hold but everyone there was certainly entertained. Produce and directed by Dennis Murfitt, the play – in two individual parts – gave us several characters to keep in mind. Although created by Terence Rattigan, the characters were brought to life convincingly by the cast.

Valerie Taylor, as Mrs Maud Railton-Bell, gave an excellent performance as a domineering, interfering snob. Her disciple, Lady Gladys Mathieson, played by Pamela Talbot-Ashby, was just as convincing. With supporting players like that, and Kevin Brown, as the young student doctor, Mr Charles Stratton, the leading pair had a lot to follow. With only a few prompts needed, William Chapman as Mr John Malcolm portrayed the disillusioned journalist with well-weighed portions of pathos and venom.
His co-star, Marion Pollard, also gave a fine performance as the vain ex-wife needing flattery now she realised she is 40 and alone. As Mrs Ann Shankland, she gave a confident and smooth delivery – one to be expected from the character she portrayed.
These main characters were surrounded by passive fringe characters, no less effective in their own right. The hotel manageress, Miss Pat Cooper, calm and logical, was similarly played by Janet Green. Herbert-Yeates as the Harry Worth-like ex-teacher Mr Fowler also crept into our affections as the piece went on.

The first part of the play featured the regular life of a private hotel suddenly disturbed by the arrival of a new guest. Her relationship with her ex-husband is analysed and improved by the end.
But is was not all seriousness and straight-faced Marjorie Proops lessons; humour essential to such a performance was readily provided by Vanessa Giles as Doreen the tactless, loveable maid, and Yvonne Cobbold as the career-minded, feminine fiancé of Charles Stratton, Miss Jean Tanner. Scene changes were smoothly and quietly executed – mainly by the maids, the other lady, Mabel, being played by Judy Hussey. These changes involved only slight disturbance, and were always well disguised in half-lighting and appropriate music, in most case Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.
The set itself was magnificent – and that is no exaggeration. Special credit should go to Ian and Ann Tucker for their excellent art work, which gave the required finishing touches to the well-designed set.

In the second part of the play we were introduced to two new characters, while the originals were developed even more. Dennis Murfitt, mastermind behind the whole production, appeared on stage as Major Pollock, who was later revealed to be slightly less than he pretended. The acting here was certainly the light to follow in amateur performance – Dennis Murfitt was terrific.
Vivienne Wheatley as the eccentric Miss Meacham was also very effective. She did not have as much to say as most, but said it with credibility and timing. This second part also concerned relationships, but this time it was more of a revolt against the domineering Mrs Railton-Bell. Both her daughter, played by Frances Brown, and Major Pollock faced the prospect of having to come to terms with themselves, and stood their ground against the compulsive “Bournemouth Belle” Mrs Railton-Bell. On stage no more than two yards from the front row, this cast put on an amazing performance, with emotional outbursts and silent moments realistic and moving.
I now look forward to their next presentation, Time and Time Again, by Alan Ayckbourn, in May. Before that, though, the young stars of the Manifest production of Oliver will take the stage again with a children’s spoof western called Bad Day in Black Frog Creek. This is to be performed in November.
Sue Wallis

Separate Tables, Manifest Theatre Group, British Legion Hall, Manningtree, Tuesday.
Two one-act plays make up Rattigan’s much performed look at the claustrophobic cocooned life of long-term residents in a genteel private hotel on the South Coast.

The first, Table by the Window, is by far the most difficult to bring off successfully depending as it does on the intrusion into this private world, with all its petty rivalries and set pecking order, of a disturbingly attractive visitor and her effect upon the normal male focus of resentment.
As the ex-model Mrs Shankland, Marion Pollard looked supremely elegant and skilfully suggested all the emotional traumas and motivations stirring beneath the beautiful surface but the essential chemistry that must positively crackle with electricity in the sterile hotel atmosphere seldom managed more than a few spluttering sparks, largely because of the very slow pace but partly because William Chapman’s disgraced semi-alcoholic ex-MP Mr Malcolm, was a very dull dog indeed. For someone who had fought his way up to high public office from the slums and docks of Hull – why not change the reference to Millwall or Tilbury if the accent is impossible to achieve - the embers had burned very low and even the assault and subsequent reconciliation failed to make them glow effectively enough for stage purposes.

Table Number Seven – again I was puzzled why the titles that have served all these years should be now labelled merely Tables One and Two unless it was to justify their positions on a very good set – is very much within the ambit of the closed ranks of the hotel guests as their massed disapproval maliciously narrows to hound one of their number who has betrayed and disgraced his and their supposed class.

Dennis Murfitt's sad Major Pollock, infinitely more credible in his moments of self-realisation than his early bogus bluff ex-officer and gentleman, had genuine patches in his tenderly played passages with a sensitively created withdrawn ugly duckling of a Sybil from Frances Brown and Janet Green in quite the best performance of the evening touched in the professional poise and the emotional depths of the hotel manageress Miss Cooper with a quiet certainty that I found both moving and appealing.
If the permanent pillars of the establishment Valerie Taylor presented a formidable toffee-nosed bitch as Mrs Railton-Bell and Vivienne Wheatley was racily eccentric as the horse-mad Miss Meacham with the rest tending to accept the low-key tone set in the first playlet.
Costumes were very much in keeping if over-opulent for such a fixed income group.
Jimmy James

Photo Shoot