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The image of a life as an unfinished wall: ‘On a First Name Basis’
By Jennifer Hind Published May 17, 2012 at 8:33 am (Updated May 17, 2012 at 8:32 am)
Patricia Vanstone and Norm Foster in the BMDS production of On A First Name Basis. Photo by Helena Janik. 2012

A love story, a social commentary and a mystery wrapped in witty dialogue and vivid imagery ‘On a First Name Basis’ is a must-see.

The two-act play by Canadian Norm Foster had its debut at Daylesford Theatre on Monday. Directed by David Nairn, it received a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience. A cantankerous, opinionated, self-absorbed author of spy novels, David Kilbride is now alone in his large, well-appointed house following three unsuccessful marriages. Well, not entirely alone, as his housekeeper of 28 years, Lucy Hopperstaad, spends nine hours of every working day attending to his every need.

Apparently out of the blue, Kilbride invites his housekeeper, whose first name he doesn’t know, to sit and tell him her life story over a drink. Bit by bit, glass by glass, the distance between employer and employee is closed.

As the two intertwining stories unfold, Foster cleverly maintains the suspense until the very last. As the relationship between the two evolves over two hours, several glasses of whiskey and a $100 bottle of Chablis, there are some very clever social observations Lucy’s insistence that her relationship with a man doesn’t define her; Kilbride’s observation that women’s greatest flaw is the men they love. References to class differences, based as much on education as on wealth, punctuate the dialogue.

There are also some poignant moments, such as David’s reflection that we all need someone to tell our story when we’re gone. The dialogue is full of clever commentary, dry humour, witty repartee: when Kilbride protests that a fine wine should be allowed to breathe, Lucy retorts, “Let it breathe? I’m about to give it mouth to mouth resuscitation!”

There is also some vivid imagery — the image of a life as an unfinished wall is particularly striking. In some parts it’s almost self-indulgent, a little too wordy, and could do with some editing.

Norm Foster plays David Kilbride, and is able to convince the audience that this apparently self-absorbed, arrogant man is worthy of being loved, and does so with an easy grace. Patricia Vanstone manages the demanding role of the self-educated, but intelligent, and utterly loyal housekeeper with apparent ease. The comic timing is spot on.

The set is a striking reconstruction of an elegant drawing room, with tray ceiling and exposed beams, oils and watercolours and the occasional, rather modest, nod to Kilbride’s literary success. It perfectly represents the character of an educated man of wealth and refined taste, impeccably maintained by a hard-working housekeeper.

A well-polished production of a well-written play, BMDS’ staging of ‘On a First Name Basis’ offers an amusing reflection of love and life and should enjoy considerable success in future runs.

‘On a First Name Basis’ runs until Saturday at the Daylesford Theatre, with curtain at 8pm.