Bury St Edmunds.
by J B Priestley.
Theatre Royal Westgate Street IP33 1QR To 19 March 2011.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 March.
Fine revival, and a welcome opportunity to see actors in a second role this spring.
You could perforate ear-drums on the cut-glass accents in Colin Blumenau’s revival of J B Priestley’s 1932 dramatic debut, with its revelations among a tight-knit, apparently happy, publishing house.
Apart from emphasising how West End voices sounded, Blumenau’s revival marries a realistic setting with the scenic conventions of his Georgian Theatre’s era. Designer Libby Watson displays the patterned décor on walls actually composed of three pairs of scenic flats. Behind them, at the stage’s centre, a French-window is suggested by white curtains.
Beside chiming with the theatre’s history it mixes, as does Priestley, the everyday with a sense of things beyond – a mix which would come to fuller life in the author’s later-thirties ‘time plays’ and in 1945’s An Inspector Calls, where Dangerous Corner’s conversational accident is replaced with a deliberate intent to disrupt a complacent family.
There’s overt emphasis on the Caplan family’s contentment, before a chance comment starts unwinding it. This often-used dramatic technique is made individual when the climax seems to melt into the opening, with reality knocked momentarily sideways before the story restarts.
Meanwhile, a chain of unhappy marriages and unfulfilled desires, tailored to the expectations of a thirties West End audience, are played with conviction by Blumenau’s cast – it’s fascinating to see people recently on this stage in Much Ado About Nothing take up such very different roles.
None more than Ellie Kirk, Much Ado’s maltreated Hero, who moves here from apparent childbride happiness to assert her problematic adulthood, transforming her poised blonde image into angry rebuttal, where every gram of pent-up emotion registers.
Then there’s Suzanne Ahmet’s Olwen, with her understanding of emotions and the necessity of concealing her feelings. Ben Deery is tactful yet forceful in the difficult role of Gordon, whose love, which still dare not speak its name in the 1930s, shouts it through implication.
Nicholas Tizzard changes Benedick’s energy into recrimination and James Wallace, morose Don John in the Shakespeare, has the necessary gravitas at the centre of the developing storm, eventually tearing off his jacket in furious anguish – a forceful gesture in a strong production.
Freda Caplan: Polly Lister.
Miss Mockridge: Lynn Whitehead.
Betty Whitehouse: Ellie Kirk.
Olwen Peel: Suzanne Ahmet.
Charles Stanton: Nicholas Tizzard.
Gordon Whitehouse: Ben Deery.
Robert Caplan: James Wallace.
Director: Colin Blumenau.
Designer: Libby Watson.
Lighting: Emma Chapman.
Assistant director: Mark Finbow.