Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington was the latest offering from performers at Riding Mill Drama Club.

The play consistently appears in Nick Hern Books’ top ten most performed plays and, in the hands of the Riding Mill cast and crew, one can see why, as the end result was a production of real class of which any professional company would have been proud.

The plot centres on a fish-filleting foursome Pearl, Jan, Shelley and Linda, for whom life is one long hard slog. But their fortunes are set to change when they head to ladies’ day at the races.

Factory hairnets make way for fascinators as the four friends hit the races for an unforgettable day out. At the racecourse the girls meet a variety of characters and have a flutter on the Tote.

As the day unfolds, tempers fray but their accumulator bet keeps quietly winning. The simple set for the opening scene allowed the packed audiences over four nights to get to know the characters, all beautifully played by Rachel Armstrong (Linda), Jean Buckley (Pearl), Carolyn Hagger (Shelley) and Frances Hewitt (Jan).

As we moved from the factory to the races, the curtains opened to reveal a fantastic set which recreated the sights of York Racecourse with wonderful imagination.

This was yet another brilliant piece of set design by Matt Osmond and his team. In the original script, the five male characters were all played by the same actor. Riding Mill had three men.

Peter Woodward doubled as the factory manager (Joe) and Pearl’s secret lover (Barry). She went to the races to find Barry, only to discover that he has died. She meets his ghost, or is it just in her mind’s eye that she sees him?

This was a lovely scene, played with great poignancy and sensitivity.

Shaun Fenwick was Jim, the TV commentator and star who tries to hit it off with Pearl. Another great double act, first as he teaches Pearl the intricacies of the ‘tic tac’ and then as he tries to seduce her. There was great comic timing here with Shaun and Carolyn working well together and reducing the audience to helpless laughter.

Gabriel MacQueen had three roles – the ticket tout, the jockey and the drunk who has lost everything. He handled all three parts well, perhaps bringing out his best as Patrick, the jockey, who meets Linda and strikes up the beginnings of a beautiful friendship.

Again, this was another lovely scene, with the two young actors gaining ‘aahs’ of sympathy from the audience as they watched the start of what might be a lasting love story.

The loudest laughs on the night went to Frances Hewitt who, as Jan, became increasingly more inebriated as time went on. This is not an easy thing to do but Frances pulled it off wonderfully, using great physical and verbal skills. The audience loved it!

Finally, we end up back in the factory. The girls think that they have lost their money, but Joe (Peter Woodward) tells them that their horse won the final race as the original winner was disqualified. Cue great celebrations in which the audience participated!

With Michael Pritchard on ‘sound’ and Haydon Brewis on ‘lights’ the technical aspect was in safe hands. In fact the whole backstage crew merit applause for the costumes and host of props, including fish, champagne and pickled sandwiches!

Eileen Davidson was the director and she deserves all the credit for assembling such a great team, rehearsing over a short time period and for producing a show which kept up the high standards we have come to expect from Riding Mill.

Next year is the Club’s 70th anniversary. It will be interesting to see how they top this production.

By Mike Smith