by J B Priestley.

Garrick Theatre 2 Charing Cross Road WC2H 0HH To 26 February 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 412 4662.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 October.

A rumpus up north gets definitive treatment down south.
This is one of those plays, if you do all right by it, it’ll do right by you. Director Christopher Luscombe plays it straight, but filled with fresh and apposite details, and the audience is rewarded with a production as fine and funny as anyone’s likely to see.

Set in Priestley’s ever-bright Edwardian era, it harks back a further quarter-century to the marriage, all on the same day, of three couples, now become complacent pillars of their northern town’s Establishment. Like the Birlings in Priestley’s later An Inspector Calls they’re enjoying a celebratory meal when bad news arrives: they’ve never been properly married. Confusions ensue, comically handled, but with some serious implications, before the most unlikely character produces a resolution.

Famous by the late thirties for plays preoccupied with the nature of time, Priestley has the merest hint of that here. In the two most generous-minded characters there’s a sense that, newly freed from marriage bonds, they might revisit their futures. Newly out from under their respective marital thumbs, Herbert Soppitt and Annie Parker stand side-by- side recalling long-ago possibilities.

But the play’s dominant sounds aren’t a clock’s tick-tock, but worms turning and stout parties collapsing. Among Luscombe’s happy inventions, following an opening build-up, is the procession of the three couples, clearly bloated with having stuffed themselves on the feast young maid Ruby’s been describing. Ruby’s a gift of a part, and Jodie McNee accepts it with enthusiasm. Her age is kept from us here, but the delight comes from her innocently youthful plain-speaking.

Sam Kelly makes the most of Herbert’s new freedom, in his sustained eye-contact with Maureen Lipman’s Annie, the downing of a whisky and open-mouthed display of enjoyment. There’s a glorious moment when she bobs up-and-down, caught between a new obedience and the remnants of rule.

The evening’s as stuffed with delightful details as the protagonists’ stomachs must be with Edwardian fare. With plenty of side-orders to the protagonists’ dilemma, complemented by Simon Higlett’s detailed set, announcing material prosperity and self-satisfaction in the patterned wallpaper and the myriad of artefacts covering it, this is a classic revival.

Ruby Birtle: Jodie McNee.
Gerald Forbes: Peter Sandys-Clarke.
Mrs Northrop: Lynda Baron.
Nancy Homes: Laura Haddock.
Fred Dyson: Tom Shaw.
Henry Ormonroyd: Roy Hudd.
Alderman Joseph Helliwell: David Horovitch.
Maria Helliwell: Susie Blake.
Councillor Albert Parker: Simon Rouse.
Herbert Soppitt: Sam Kelly.
Clara Soppitt: Maureen Lipman.
Annie Parker: Michele Dotrice.
Lottie Grady: Rosemary Ashe.
Rev Clement Mercer.

Director: Christopher Luscombe.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Mark Henderson.
Sound: Jason Barnes.
Musical Director: Don Shearman.
Movement: Jane Gibson.
Dialect coach: Martin McKellan.
Singing coach: Rosemary Ashe.
Fight director: Malcolm Ranson.
Assistant director: Lisa Blair.
Associate designer: Geraldine Bunzl.

2010-10-31 18:58:53

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