London and Touring
When We Are Married
Rose Theatre, Kingston to 15 10 16, then West Yorkshire Playhouse, Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough, Everyman Theatre Cheltenham, New Vic Theatre Newcastle-under-Lyme, Liverpool Playhouse, The Viaduct Halifax
Runs 150 minutes with interval
Review: Tom Aitken, 13 10 16
It still makes you laugh and it still makes you think.
In September 1938, J.B. Priestly, speaking after the opening performance of When We Are Married, said that his objects in writing the play had been to give audiences some robust North Country Humour and, in so doing, to divert their minds for an hour or two from the state of Europe. Twenty years after 1914-18, another war was looming.
David Ward’s essay in the programme suggests perhaps that diverting audiences’ minds from the state of events now is again a sensible reason for Northern Broadsides and York Theatre Royal to tour this play round a large slice of England.
What sort of play would have had, and now have again, these useful results?
In writing When We Are Married, Priestly commented, he ‘had a lot of fun remembering and then using aspects of West Riding life known to my boyhood. The plot is nonsensical but the characters and their attitudes and their talk are all authentic’. The play was, he also wrote, ‘a broadly farcical comedy…’ and he thought it ‘not a bad sketch of provincial manners and attitudes.’
It is certainly a comedy with farcical elements, but there were serious thoughts lurking in Priestley’s consciousness as he wrote. It illustrates the sense of privilege, of class, and the way in which these gave rise to pomposity, snobbery, hypocrisy and complacency.
The unpleasant qualities seem to be largely confined to the wealthy mill owners we see holding forth. Their wives remain silent until an apparent catastrophe occurs which allows them to give vent, at first to each other, and later to the men in their lives as well, to critical and resentful sentiments that shock their husbands hugely.
I’m not going to tell you what the catastrophe is. Buy a ticket and find out for yourselves!
The direction is deft and fast moving, the acting to the manor born. This play combines hilarity and social observation in way which Brian Rix and the Whitehall farces did not even dream of. I don’t mean that as a dismissal of Rix, merely as saying that there is lot in this play to make you think about life while roaring out your mirth.
Ruby Birtle: Kat Rose-Martin
Gerald Forbes: Luke Adamson
Nancy Holmes: Sophia Hatfield
Alderman Joseph Helliwell: Mark Stratton
Maria Halliwell: Geraldine Fitzgerald
Cllr Albert Parker: Adrian Hood
Annie Parker: Sue Devaney
Herbert Soppit: Steve Huison
Clara Soppit: Kate Anthony
Mrs Northrop: Lisa Howard
Fred Dyson: Natthew Booth
Henry Ormonroyd: Barry Rutter
Lottie Grady: Zoe Lambert
Rev Clement Mercer: John Gully
The Mayor: Andy Hall
Director: Barrie Rutter
Designer: Jessica Worall
Music: Conrad Nelson
Lighting: Tim Skelly