Back Where It All Began



by Sam Evans-Brown ~

Norman and Ethel Thayer in ON GOLDEN POND at The Little Church Theatre (photo by Ian Raymond)

Norman and Ethel Thayer
(photo by Ian Raymond)

Even though it’s been thirty years since the film was released, businesses and residents around Squam Lake haven’t forgotten about On Golden Pond.

And the screenplay’s writer, Ernest Thompson, hasn’t forgotten about Squam Lake.

As NHPR correspondent Sam Evans-Brown reports, Thompson is back at the Little Church Theater in Holderness to direct what he calls the definitive On Golden Pond.

On Golden Pond is the story of Ethyl and Norman Thayer, a retired couple who spend their summers on a lake in Maine, and their daughter Chelsea.

The 1981 film version famously featured Katharine Hepburn, and Henry and Jane Fonda.

The movie was filmed on Squam Lake in Holderness, and won three Oscars.

You’d think that after all of the success that this script has brought to Ernest Thompson, he’d be a little more complementary toward it.

But when asked why he was back on Squam Lake directing another production of the play, his answer was surprising.

Thompson: On Golden Pond is just the beast that won’t die. Whenever I think that everyone is sick of it and no-one wants to see it again, it turns out that’s not the case, so I visit it once and a while.

Thompson responds with the same frankness when asked what a screenplay that was written about Maine has to do with New Hampshire.

He says that the location was chosen based on proximity to Boston, availability of lodging and amenities, and the picturesque backdrop of the Squam mountains ringing the lake.

The Cast of ON GOLDEN POND at The Little Church Theatre (photo by Ian Raymond)

(photo by Ian Raymond)

It takes some time before he begins to talk like a director.

Thompson: Part of why people embrace On Golden Pond so much here, is because it’s about them it’s about the way of life the summer way of life the lake way of life.

Thompson is very aware that Ethyl and Norman Thayer aren’t natives, that role is reserved for another character.

Thompson: If you know anything about the area you know it takes a long time to get native status. But Charley the mailman, he’s every guy. He doesn’t just bring the mail, he brings the gossip, and the news and the weather report, he’s just part of the tapestry of New Hampshire.

In the movie version, Charley the mailman made only a few brief appearances.

In Thompson’s production, Charley plays a much more central role, and provides large doses of folksy humor.

Charlie: A Charlie actuality here (Loud, lot’s of Main-ah accent).

There are many notable differences between the play and the movie.

Chelsea Thayer in ON GOLDEN POND at The Little Church Theatre (photo by Ian Raymond)

Chelsea Thayer
(photo by Ian Raymond)

The absence of any boat accident or Jane Fonda bikini scenes remind us that lots of Hollywood glitz was added to the film version.

Thompson also went out of his way to create a memorable sound-track.

The new production features an original song by Carly Simon during the scene changes, called – you guessed it – On Golden Pond.**

SFX: Carly Simon On Golden Pond **

The differences in this production highlight the striking fact that while On Golden Pond has had countless different runs around the world, this is the first time that Thompson has directed it.

Charlie the Mailman in ON GOLDEN POND at The Little Church Theatre (photo by Ian Raymond)

Charlie the Mailman
(photo by Ian Raymond)

Thompson: I guess you could say that this is the definitive On Golden Pond.

Thompson says that his version brings back much of the humor from the original script, and that other directors have leaned too much on the sentiment.

While that may be true it is easy to see why

The play does have its chuckles and its slapstick moments of tripping over suitcases, but the most memorable moments are when emotions run high.

Actuality: “You don’t know what it’s like to be reminded of how worthless you are every time that old son-of-a-bitch crosses your path!”

“That old son-of-a-bitch he happens to be my husband” *SLAP*

This is not Hollywood’s On Golden Pond, it’s Ernest Thomson’s, but the core of the story is the same.

It’s the same heart-wrenching father-daughter reconciliation.

Bill Ray in ON GOLDEN POND at The Little Church Theatre (photo by Ian Raymond)

Bill Ray
(photo by Ian Raymond)

It’s the same meditation on the trial of growing old with dignity.

The play runs through this weekend and has another 16 performances at the end of August.


To read this article at, click here.


**Song in audio incorrectly plays “On Golden Pond” which was written by Ernest Thompson, Natalie MacMaster and Joe Deleault with vocalist Emily Flack. The song “Father Daughter Dance”, also in the play, was written by Carly Simon.

Billy Ray in ON GOLDEN POND at The Little Church Theatre (photo by Ian Raymond)

Billy Ray
(photo by Ian Raymond)