Only Fools And Horses duo are reunited at Guildford

Friday 6th May 2022 11:00 am
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Gwyneth Strong and Tessa Peake-Jones rehearsing for Ladies of Letters UK Tour. Credit Craig Fuller
Gwyneth Strong and Tessa Peake-Jones rehearsing for Ladies of Letters UK Tour (Craig Fuller )

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THERE isn’t a lot of time left but if you can, hurry to Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre and experience a brilliant, laugh-a-minute comedy spelled out in a correspondence course that brings together two talented actresses creating a cracker of a show.

Tessa Peake-Jones as Irene and Gwyneth Strong as Vera are the classic Ladies of Letters written by Lou Wakefield and Carole Hayman, adapted by Jonathan Harvey, who keep the postman busy with their correspondence, written with cynical affection, but through it they establish a lasting friendship.

After meeting at a family wedding and now miles apart in their spacious, suburban homes, with not an email in sight, they put pen to paper.

Through it, we learn these two rather lonely middle-aged widows are glad of the growing friendship and even their dysfunctional children can’t spoil the joy the ladies get from their letter writing filled with the odd barbed comment and trivial news.

Until Irene finds a gentleman friend, and this almost ends the friendship when he later turns up in Vera’s hotel room. It causes a two-year break in the letter writing and by the time they are heading for the post box again, their lives have changed dramatically.

Irene has been jailed, after joining a demonstration to stop the local Marks and Spencer closing down and trying to stop the demolition by head-butting a bulldozer. Strangely, she seems to be enjoying prison life, and Vera also ends up in prison due to a mix-up that makes police think she is a drug dealer.

There is a hilarious scene when they find themselves in the same jail at Christmas time. In fact, although they experience some grim, as well as sad moments, the comedy, through the letters, bubbles along.

The evening creates a feel-good feeling thanks to the talent of Tessa Peake-Jones and Gwyneth Strong – who are together again after they first starred in television’s Only Fools and Horses over 30 years ago.

With the help of crisp direction by Joanna Read and an intriguing stage set, they have mastered a marathon of a script, losing none of the nuances, the supple bitchiness, and comic bile – even the odd political joke – they exchange while writing at their neat desks in their spacious houses or in prison cells.

Ladies of Letters runs at Guildford until Satuday (May 7) before going on tour.

Sheila Checkley

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