THEY CAME TO A CITY
by J B Priestley.
Southwark Playhouse (The Vaults) Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 28 May 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 May.
Priestley, thou should’st be living at this hour. England hath need of thee.
Whatever its highs or lows, The New Actors Company’s rare revival of J B Priestley’s play is worth seeing. From 1943, the year of Daylight on Saturday, his novel probing the malaise between the Battle of Britain and the allied landings in Europe, City reminds that Priestley, whose politically progressive Postscript broadcasts had annoyed Winston Churchill, was a campaigner for social change.
So, the City outside which strangers from different strands of English society mysteriously assemble, represents an ideal of social justice. We never see inside the walls, yet when they return during act two each character’s attitudes to the place defines them, whether it’s hatred, perplexity or delight. Some stay, others rush away, while a few are torn over leaving.
Robert Laycock’s sympathetic production plays on a set by Lucy Rushbrook which emphasises Southwark Playhouse’s Vault as a huge, abstract place, the unseen city represented by rays of Matt Tarbuck’s lighting shining over its walls. Each character’s arrival is signalled by a brief ominous burst of Christopher Littlewood’s score before their voice comes from the dark and they are illumined by an unforgiving shaft of light.
The actors vary in impact. The final optimistic dialogue between two young people – a positive version of the Inspector’s climactic speech in An Inspector Calls – shows the production at its most generalised, with Alice over-sour and under-projected, and Joe’s conflicting thoughts insufficiently detailed.
Others catch the style and character. The final dialogue between sheepish bank employee Stritton and his wife makes clear his battle between loyalty to her and reluctance – expressed finally in a regretful look back – to leave, while Jessica Frances suggests Dorothy’s terse repression might prevent her finding her own better qualities.
If Sarah Moss could articulate words more clearly, she would capture even better the young aristocrat rising above her class. Amanda Osborne, with a mix of commanding voice and anxious glances, pointedly shows her once-adventurous mother’s middle-aged conformity.
Best is Jean Perkins’ charwoman for whom it’s luxury just to sit and rest. Unassuming, trotting with quiet independence back into the city, she’ a touchingly memorable creation.
Joe Dinmore: James Robinson.
Malcolm Stritton: Daniel Souter.
Cudworth: Thomas Shirley.
Sir George Gedney: Tom Miller.
Alice Foster: Charlotte Donachie.
Philippa Oxfield: Sarah Moss.
Lady Loxfield: Amanda Osborne.
Dorothy Stritton: Jessica Francis.
Mrs Batley: Jean Perkins.
Director: Robert Laycock.
Designer: Lucy Rushbrook.
Lighting: Matt Tarbuck.
Music: Christopher Littlewood.
Costume: Emma Lloyd, Christine Gregson for The Costume Design House.
Hair/Make-up: Kirsty Lamb.