When We Are Married

Mar 19 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Charming fun

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 18 – Sat 21 March 2015

Snappy, engaging and funny, Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s production of J.B. Priestley’s When We Are Married mines a rich seam of humour in the timeless subjects of marital discord and snobbery.

Three couples who all consider themselves pillars of the community in the West Yorkshire town of Cleckwyke have gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversaries of their weddings. However, they soon discover that they may not really be married at all….

Roving Johnston (left) with Pat Hymers, John Webster and Iain Menzies. Photo: Robert Fuller

Robin Johnston (left) with Pat Hymers, John Webster and Iain Menzies. Photo: Robert Fuller

Priestley’s 1938 comedy is set in the early 1900s and – despite a worrying reference in the programme to ‘early this century’ – any temptation to update the story has been firmly resisted. Indeed, this minor typographical slip is one of the few false steps in a thoroughly enjoyable production.

The authentically Edwardian costumes and solid drawing-room set are typical of the thought that has gone into this. With a large cast, there has to be the possibility of some weak links, but director Valerie Lennie has put sufficient care into the production to ensure that the standard of performance – and Yorkshire accents – are extremely high.

No modern dramatist would consider writing a play for the professional stage with 14 speaking parts – a good half of whom are not necessary dramatically. For a non-professional company, however, the sheer range and diversity of parts provide a real opportunity.

quickly delineated and entirely believable

Priestley’s impressive stagecraft means the situation is effortlessly set up, and the constant revolving of characters keeps the pace up without ever becoming farcical. Not surprisingly for a first night, there were occasions when the pace could have been picked up a little, but these were few and far between.

When We Are Married Photo Robert Fuller

When We Are Married. Photo: Robert Fuller

The three couples at the centre of the drama are quickly delineated and entirely believable. From the outset, we can see the tensions that would come to the fore once the discovery of an unqualified parson is made – and also the underlying affections that give the hope of a happy ending. Pat Hymers manages the transition from Alderman Helliwell’s smug complacency to spluttering helplessness very well. John Webster’s portrayal of the self-satisfied bore Councillor Albert Parker is both lugubriously funny and oddly touching.

Helen Hammond’s Maria Helliwell is an effective depiction of a disappointed woman, while Anne Mackenzie’s Annie Parker combines repressed rage and excellent comic timing. Iain Menzies and Lynn Cameron have the most difficult roles as the stereotypical Soppitts, but they manage to invest the stock figures of put-upon husband and domineering wife with considerable humanity.

They are well backed up by the rest of the cast. Graham Bell’s press photographer Ormonroyd is a joyous piece of ‘drunk’ acting, with his absurd conversation with Carol Bryce’s sparky maid Ruby a particular highlight. Bev Wright relishes the role of Lottie the barmaid, while Helen E. Nix’s vindictive housekeeper Mrs Northrop is similarly energetic.

fun and frothy

In the smaller roles, Stik Cook seems right at home as journalist Fred Dyson, while Mike Brownsell’s fire-and-brimstone preacher is greatly enhanced by a beard eerily reminiscent of Pastor Jack Glass. Robin Johnson and Stephanie Hammond, as young lovers Gerald and Nancy, are perhaps not quite as at ease as some of the others but have a certain winsome charm.

When We Are Married. Photo: Robert Fuller

When We Are Married. Photo: Robert Fuller

Director Lennie shows a sure touch with the staging. There is none of the awkwardness sometimes present with large ensembles; instead, everyone supports each other excellently. The trademark EPT attention to detail with set and props is very much in evidence, and effective lighting and well chosen scene-setting music add to the atmosphere. The decision to have two intervals, but to make the first one only a few minutes – ideal for a ‘comfort break’ – is also a good one.

Those familiar with some of Priestley’s other work might be surprised at the lack of bite in the play; aside from some gentle fun at the expense of small-town pomposity, there is no real edge to this. However, it is a fun and frothy piece of comedy that displays real stagecraft in the writing, and it is certainly done justice here.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including 2 intervals
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 18 – Saturday 21 March 2015
Wed-Fri: 7.30 pm; Saturday: 2.30 pm
Full details and tickets from: http://www.ept.org.uk/shows/show=201503married.html

When We Are Married. Photo: Robert Fuller

When We Are Married. Photo: Robert Fuller


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