Same Time Next Year by Bernard Slade – 8th February 2022 – Theatr Clwyd (Anthony Hopkins Theatre)

1951, and a chance encounter in a Californian hotel leads to more than just a passionate one-night stand. George and Doris are two happily married people…the problem is, they’re not married to each other. This chance encounter is the start of something, and as the title of the play makes clear, the couple agree to meet up once a year, in the same place, for a no-strings-attached fun and frivolous fling. And so begins a love affair that will continue for 25 years. 

The opening scene perfectly conveys the awkward embarrassment of George, a New Jersey accountant, and Doris, a bored housewife, as they wake up and realisation dawns on them that they have committed adultery three times in one night. George can’t even get Doris’s name right! You can’t help but laugh and squirm in your seat as George and Doris, played by Kieran Buckeridge and Sarah Kempton realise they have thrown their marriage vows into the wind for a night of drunken debauchery. Or have they? They don’t feel guilty, and vow that they will not keep in touch with other, but they will make a pact to meet “Same Time, Next Year.” 

We rejoin this pair of star-crossed lovers five years later in the same guest cottage of the country inn in Northern California where they first met. Both were surprised that the other turned up on the first anniversary, but five years later, the two realise their initial spark can’t be dampened. 

This two-hander rom-com takes place in Two Acts, chronicling Doris and George’s journey on a specific day in February 1951, 1956, 1961, 1965, 1970 and 1975. In each self-contained scene we begin to know more about Doris and George’s families, their lives outside of this annual bubble, and the changes happening in American society. The decades Slade chose to set his play in were times of quite dramatic change. People were becoming more prosperous, the fight for women’s rights were taking hold, and anti-war campaigns were being fought. 

Director Michael Cabot has done a fantastic job of taking Doris and George, on a mesmerising journey. It’s a difficult task to take on a 25-year ageing process, but both characters are completely believable. Each scene opens with music relevant to the year, ending with the 1975’s disco beats. George is very conservative in his approach to fashion and remains in, more or less, the same suit throughout the decades, although for the 70’s he does sport an interesting moustache and bell bottom jeans! But it is Doris, who with each meeting, changes the most. It is not only with the changing face of fashion, but her outlook on life and her views changes as things happen in her home life and she seeks to make something better of herself as many women did during those years. It is as though George is meeting a reincarnation of Doris, rather than the woman he had that first romantic tryst with. 

With each meeting, both tell a good story and a bad story about their spouses. It felt so genuine watching two people rant about the way their husband or wife drove them mad, but at the same time not forgetting that they still loved them despite their flaws. Both actors were remarkable in their roles and the exchanges between them were completely organic, which is why in Act Two when the light-hearted banter is suddenly exchanged for moments of sadness and reflection, the reaction of the audience was palpable. 

The play is set in an era where there are no mobile phones or social media. The annual meetings are given a plausible excuse; an annual business meeting; an annual religious retreat, so their spouses will not suspect anything untoward. You would think the couple wouldn’t have that much in common to catch up on, but both are married with children, and both have aspirations and unfulfilled ambitions that they can only discuss with one another. So, life during the year carries on as normal, then with each annual meeting a whole year’s news is conveyed to each other. Of course, as they both age, the news transcends from amusing stories to more truthful and tragic anecdotes, and as both find out, a hell of a lot can happen in a year. 

Images: Sheila Burnett

The Canadian playwright Bernard Slade has painted a nostalgic, bittersweet comedic portrait of two very likable protagonists who find themselves in a very unusual relationship. He has explored the ups and downs of meeting the right person at the wrong moment with a warmth and affection that both actors conveyed so well. This is not a moralistic tale or one asking for you condone the breaking of the sanctity of marriage, it is purely for entertainment, and as we ride the highs and lows of both characters’ lives, it’s a bit of a balm for the soul and perfect for anyone in need of a night of laughter.

Same Time, Next Year by Bernard Slade, Theatr Clwyd Theatr Anthony Hopkins until 18th February 2022.

George: Kieran Buckeridge
Doris: Sarah Kempton

Theatr Clwyd
8 – 12 February 2022

Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
15 – 19 February 2022

The landmark Ilfracombe
22 – 23 February 2022

South Hill Park Bracknell
25 – 26 February 2022

Derby Theatre
8 – 12 March 2022

Lighthouse Poole
25 – 26 March 2022

Devonshire Park Theatre Eastbourne
5 – 9 April 2022

New Nic Newcastle Under Lyme
12 – 16 April 2022