The Anniversary

Written by Bill MacIlwraith

Tuesday 2nd October to Saturday 6th October 1973

Produced and Directed by Mo Burness and David Spackman

The 'mother-in-law from hell' who has every member of her family wrapped around her little finger, can normally make them do whatever she wants, regardless of their own needs. But this year, on the anniversary of her wedding, things start to unravel and the tables begin to turn.

AuthorBill MacIlwraith

Bill MacIlwraith (b 1928)

Bill MacIlwraith (also known as William, and with an alternative spelling of his surname of McIlwraith) was born in London in 1928. He is best known as a television screenwriter and during the 1960s and 1970s was responsible for a number of successful shows such as 'Beryl's Lot', 'Seconds Out' starring Robert Lindsay, 'Two's Company' starring Elaine Stritch and Donald Sinden and several episodes of the iconic 'Armchair Theatre'.

The Anniversary, which was published and first produced in 1966, was one of only 3 plays he wrote (the other 2 being 'The Last Gamble' and 'Madge') and was his most successful - being made in to a film in 1968 starring Bette Davis and Sheila Hancock.

PlayThe Anniversary

This comedy of family power-play is set in South London in 1966. Tom brings his pregnant fiancee Shirley home for the annual wedding-anniversary ritual orchestrated by his widowed, scalpel-tongued, deviously possessive mother. Of Tom's brothers and co-workers in the (shoddy) family building business, Terry is a weakling, trying to get up the nerve to announce his imminent emigration to Canada just to get away from Mum, and Henry is a considerate, gentle giant who just happens also to be a compulsive transvestite. Tom hasn't mentioned Shirley to Mum yet either. Mum's arsenal of bitchy comments and Machiavellian stratagems is a creation of darkly glittering and consistently funny beauty. This is a case of jealous mothering as a black art.

The Bench Production

The Anniversary poster image

This play was staged under Bench Theatre's original company name of Theatre Union, at their theatre in West Street. It was actually the building in West Street, Havant where most of the Company's early plays were staged, which was called the Bench Theatre (after its prior use as a magistrates' court). The company's name was changed gradually by word of mouth and general usage between the years 1973 - 1977 when reviewers, and then members themselves, gradually stopped referring to Theatre Union and started calling the company of players 'Bench Theatre'. The new Company name of Bench Theatre was adopted in to all the promotional literature after they moved from the old theatre (which had been their home for nearly 7 years) in to the Old Town Hall building in East Street.


TomPeter Corrigan
ShirleyJen Jones
HenryBrian Montefiore
TerryMalcolm 'Spokey' Wheeler
KarenJune Jacques
MumEve Moore


Directors Mo Burness
David Spackman
Stage Management Ray Osborne
David Lings
Special Effects Tony Byng
Lighting and Sound Tim Mahoney
Make up Noella Mills

Director's Notes

Whilst the play is written in a farcical manner, Mum's malevolence permeates the whole action. A woman of undeniable charm, she has three sons whom she has lacerated with her warped love, and it says something for man's resilience that they are as normal as they are.

Henry, her first-born, has managed to find an ersatz love that cannot humiliate him any more. Terry, although married, still clings to his mother hoping for a miracle to happen. Tom, in his hatred, is prepared to sacrifice everyone to achieve his victory over Mum. And so as the family is unwillingly brought together to celebrate Mum's wedding anniversary (regardless of deceased Dad) revolt is in the air.

Mo Burness and David Spackman


The NewsAnon

Mother who spins a web of hate

No comedian's act is complete without a few digs at that comic-tragic figure, the mother-in-law. She is sometimes hilarious and sometimes pathetic but the creature conjured up by Havant's Bench Theatre players is no joke - she is cruel, venomous and hateful. Eve Moore as the mother who spins her three sons around her little finger and treats her daughter-in-law with calculated contempt, uses every trick in the book to turn husband against wife and brother against brother. She is the kind of woman who says: "Do you mind sitting elsewhere? I find B.O. unpleasant", to her son's fiancee at their first meeting.

The Anniversary' by Bill MacIlwraith, started its run at Havant last night and without a doubt it is one of the Bench Theatre's best yet. The starting plot of the play wraps around the audience involving them in all the characters, all well-chosen and well-directed by Mo Burness and David Spackman, two founder members of the theatre. Family life centres around Mum, who runs the family building business as well as her three sons. Each year there is a special party to celebrate Mum's wedding anniversary, despite the fact that father died several years ago. Each year there have been the same rows and old hatreds flaring up, fanned expertly by mother, but this time the family revolts against her hold.

Peter Corrigan, Brian Montefiore and Malcolm Wheeler play the three sons. June Jaques plays the wife of one of the sons and Jen Jones plays the unfortunate newcomer to the family circle as the future fiancee of one of the sons. The play continues until Saturday.

The News, 2nd October 1973

Production Photographs