Alan Bennett is a national treasure, and his writings are justly well respected. Say Something Happened was originally broadcast on BBC television in 1982, and this production manages to capture the feel of the 1970’s incredibly well. So much so that you feel you’ve gone back in time and are in the living room of Mr and Mrs Rhodes as they bicker, banter and finish each other’s sentences.
Weaving genuine comedy with poignant almost tragic moments
This dramatises the meeting between June, working for Social Services in registering the elderly in the area, and the elderly couple that she meets. June is tentative, quoting her manager at every opportunity in a way that can only be hero worship, and explains that she’s “never done this before”. It does seem that the couple, Mr and Mrs Rhodes, who call each other “Mam” and “Dad” in sweet northern accents, are there to help June rather than the other way around. However, as the meeting goes on, it slowly becomes apparent to the audience that they are very isolated, despite their protestations that they like it that way. They are fine with just each other, but as June blunders with the indelicate statement, “but you won’t always have each other”, Mrs Rhodes snaps the reply “don’t you think we know that!”. This is a tender moment.
Alan Bennett’s delicious way of weaving genuine comedy with poignant almost tragic moments is a joy to experience. The subject of getting older is one that is not generally discussed, yet it will affect us all as the alternative is not desirable either. Mr and Mrs Rhodes, although quite capable, are forced to face the truth that their daughter is off doing her own thing and they are left without support of family; that they are in fact getting old. The help sign that they are given at the end to place in the window ‘if something happens’, and the way they stare at it, speaks volumes. They have become, or are becoming, the elderly people they think of other old people as, and they might have to swallow their pride and ask for help. Something older generations forty years on still struggle with.
Barnes Community Players make a decent job of telling this poignant, funny, and sometimes tragic story. They bring out much of the comedy evidenced by the audience laughter. It was clear that this was an amateur production, with June’s accent seeming to waver a little and they didn’t seem used to listening to the audience in order to allow them to finish laughing. But as they all came out with tambourines and the help sign at the end of the piece and sang along to Help by the Beatles, it’s clear that they wanted the audience to leave feeling uplifted and happy, which is a laudable aim.