Daddy Long Legs is set in turn-of-the-century New England, where orphan ‘poor Jerusha’ Abbott is sent to college by a mysterious benefactor, who she nicknames ‘Daddy Long Legs’ after his elongated shadow.
Jerusha writes him letters over the years which provide an insight into her innermost thoughts – which, he rather frustratingly, never replies to – and, without spoiling anything, the storyline predictably meanders its way through drama and song to a romantic, feel-good ending.
Based on Jean Webster’s 1912 novel, and remade into a 1955 Hollywood film starring Fred Astaire, it’s a storyline that probably wouldn’t be written 100 years later, with some dubious connotations to a modern audience: a poverty-stricken and unrealistically-innocent female controlled, influenced and in life-long debt to an older, exceptionally-privileged male she calls ‘Daddy’?
Jerusha squealing with glee about boxes of chocolates and feathered-hats or casually toying with the idea of dropping her education to get married were excruciating for me – but seemed to be the most humorous for the rest of the belly-laughing audience. So, perhaps if you don’t think about it too hard, it is easy to be swept along with the self-assurance that everything must turn out okay!
Themes challenging ideas of self-identity, what we deserve in life and our own position in society, as well as some highlighting of the importance of education, culture, love and happiness have stood the test of time, meanwhile.
With a running-time of two-hours-and-ten-minutes and only two characters on stage for almost every second, something quite unquestionable is the outstanding performance delivered by Rebecca Jayne-Davies and Ryan Bennett – impressive for its sheer endurance, with thousands of lines learnt and delivered faultlessly, as well as its West End calibre.
Jayne-Davies gave a youthful, vibrant and Disney princess-like performance with pitch-perfect singing, peppy stage presence and an applaudable American accent throughout. While Ryan Bennett traversed the haughty and lovestruck spectrum of Jervis / Daddy well – with the duo’s harmonies proving particularly beautiful.
In the modest and intimate auditorium of The Barn Theatre, I had to frequently remind myself we were watching a production not just performed in Cirencester, but made here too – with the actors both delivering outstanding performances, worthy of national stages.
Rather uniquely, also adding to the on-stage body count was a trio of musicians: cellist Rosalind Ford, guitarist Alex Crawford and musical director Charlie Ingles on piano, who were all notably impressive throughout – gently interacting with the actors and performing a beautiful score that was of standalone classical concert quality.
Daddy Long Legs’ set too was sophisticated and effective: piles of leather-bound books set against a backdrop of illuminated handwritten letters. It was simple and restrained, the perfect foil to the unfolding action. While Jerusha updating the years on a slate blackboard as they rolled by; a particularly simple and effective touch.
Directed by Kirstie Davies, Daddy Long Legs proved charming and well-made, reinforcing the reputation The Barn Theatre in Cirencester’s #BuiltbyBarn productions have garnered for quality. We are excited to see what’s made next at this Cotswold hotbed of talent…
Daddy Long Legs is on stage from Wednesday 2 October to Saturday 2 November 2019. For more information see Daddy Long Legs at The Barn Theatre. Call The Barn Theatre on (01285) 648255 or visit barntheatre.org.uk to book tickets.
By Michelle Fyrne
Friday 11 October 2019
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