Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

 A delightful journey back in time

A world in another time. Pa and Ma Larkin, Bob Graham and Joan Wakeman. recreate life in the more innocent days of the 1950s

The Darling Buds of May

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


ROSS Workman's joyous production achieves the ABC of necessities that any airing of this H E Bates classic demands. It takes us back more than half a century, and it's alcoholic, bucolic and comic. It's a delight. 

The month in which we are privileged to watch Pa and Ma Larkin rule the roost in their corner of the Kent countryside is sufficient to ensure that we understand the propensities of the bluebell wood and share Pa's pleasure at discovering that Ma is in a primrose-and-bluebell mood. 

Certainly, we are left in no doubt of where Pa stands in relation to the world. He decrees that all governments are dishonest, he has never heard of The Times, and we know that if Ma dons her pink nightgown, it's Friday.  

Bob Graham is Pa – brash, bibulous and unswervingly sociable; the king of experimental cocktails and the constant quarry of the taxman. This is a splendid, gravel-voiced performance. Pa loves his lot in life. He is a man in a personal paradise; clearly the man in charge; the man fitted to take responsibility for the local gymkhana in an emergency. No crisis will overcome him. 

He has in Ma (Joan Wakeman) a helpmeet who has borne him six children and whom he is now seriously considering marrying. Again, this is a heart-warming account of a real human being. She is often phlegmatic, but she has an air of permanency of which the Rock of Gibraltar could justifiably be enviable.  She is Pa's anchor. 

Rebecca Williams is their eldest daughter, Mariette, so-called because of a nominal mix-up at the font. She brings fresh-faced joy to the household, already heavily populated and now augmented by Stefan Austin as Cedric – informally known at Charlie, a young man who works in the tax office and whose personality understandably blossoms under the sociable influence of the Larkins. 

Pa's sociability moves to excess with the visit of Miss Pilchester (Sandy Tudor). He also spreads goodwill to all men by way of fireworks – satisfyingly portrayed by Murray Bridges and Derek Taylor in the lighting department. 

Alan Minaker, as the tax inspector, and Colin Young (the Brigadier) add to a mischievous merry-go-round, in which Rachel Lawrence, Kerena Taylor, Dennis Beasley and Carolyn Brinton are pleasingly enmeshed. 

This is a reassuringly reliable company – and all praise to the team who worked on the split stage, neither half of which somehow gives the impression of being overcrowded. It's the penultimate production of The Nonentities' season, which is going to offer a lip-smacking finale in June with Noel Coward's Present Laughter. Meanwhile, it's laugh with the Larkins. To 14-05-11.

John Slim 

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