by J B Priestley.
Royal and Derngate (Royal auditorium) To 25 June.
7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 01604 624811.
then tour to 23 July 2011.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 June.
A revival close to perfection.
It doesn’t look like the poster, with its view across bare boards through a bay window to a rural garden. Sara Perks’ apt design for Laurie Sansom’s revival of J B Priestley’s 1934 play (toured after Northampton by English Touring Theatre) is a low, tilted platform cosily inhabited by furniture and, less cosily, by Dr Kirby and his adult family, with long-standing family servant Sarah and the younger generation’s attachments.
Behind, up a few steps, this cosy-seeming world becomes abstract, suggesting uncertainty outside. For Eden End is a time as well as place – 1913, lending irony to Dr Kirby’s optimistic about society solving its problems by 1916.
For Priestley pre-1914 was a golden age, destroyed by the War. Eden End gives that age a Chekhovian feel, sometimes paralleling situations in Chekhov’s plays – including an ending where Sarah, alone, like The Cherry Orchard’s ancient manservant Firs, in the old family house, is caught between Stella’s outdated but familiar dress, and the intimidating new technology of the telephone.
These actors search-out the household’s tensions. For one, it is the expectation of death, caught in William Chubb’s uneasy casualness; for another the truth of failure behind an apparently glittering showbiz career – Charlotte Emmerson skirts the blasé to capture the anxiety; for another the desire to come home, until he arrives and immediately longs to return to the heat of his African posting.
Nick Hendrix shows the perplexity of this experience – as well as Wilfred’s temporary escape in drink, along with Stella’s husband Charles (good-willed but knowing himself unreliable, as Daniel Betts shows), who provides worldly experience contrasting Wilfred’s innocence. Their drunk scenes works because the characters try to appear sober after their front-of-curtain revelry with a frivolous military number history would soon make impossible.
Stay-at-home sister Lilian, jealous when Stella arrives and attracts landed neighbour Geoffrey Farrant’s interest (Jonathan Firth, the soul of unimaginative propriety), could seem merely resentful, but Daisy Douglas finds sympathy for someone whose hopes of happiness are unexpectedly ruined.
All are part of a meticulous yet spontaneous-seeming production from a director who clearly understands Priestley’s dramatic methods and ideas.
Charles Appleby: Daniel Betts.
Dr Kirby: William Chubb.
Lilian Kirby: Daisy Douglas.
Stella Kirby: Charlotte Emmerson.
Geoffrey Farrant: Jonathan Firth.
Wilfred Kirby: Nick Hendrix.
Sarah: Carol Macready.
Director: Laurie Sansom.
Designer: Sara Perks.
Lighting: Anna Watson.
Sound/Composer: Jon Nicholls.
Choreographer: Nick Winston.
Assistant director: Elle While.