Sunday, 12 April 2009

When We Are Married - West Yorkshire Playhouse

When We Are Married by J.B. Priestley
Directed by Ian Brown
Reviewer: Ali Noble

‘When We Are Married’ is a Yorkshire farcical comedy written by one of Yorkshire’s most famous sons, J.B.Priestley. It was a play I’d never come across before, and I toddled along to the theatre ignorant of the revelry that awaited me. I was also ignorant of the fact that the play was billed as starring Les Dennis, of ‘Family Fortunes’- and Celebrity Big Brother tabloid fodder-fame. Les was (thankfully - sorry, Les) just one of nine main characters in the play, and a cast of 13, an ensemble who worked brilliantly together and pulled off the ridiculousness of the plot with aplomb.

The action of the play takes place in a single room - the living room of Mr. & Mrs. Joe Helliwell, but the antics of the cast gave energy and movement - I didn’t even notice that the cast were confined to one room until I read so in the programme afterwards. The imaginative and clever set helped create the illusion of movement too. The Helliwell’s abode is constructed on stage, their living room, complete with illuminated picture frames, whisky bottles and doilies, takes centre stage; the stairway, corridor, dining room and front door are seen behind the living room through translucent walls and with clever lighting. The lights really were quite something - when the lights were down the screen separating the rooms seemed opaque and wall-like, but when the lights were up, the audience could clearly see the cast running up and down the stairs, dining, and squabbling in other areas of the house. The beautiful and ingenious design greatly added to the enjoyment of the play.
The story is set before the First World War, and follows three couples who were married on the same day two and a half decades ago, who come together to celebrate their joint silver wedding anniversary. It’s hard to outline the story without giving away the twists, turns and laughs of the play, but be assured that much hilarity, knicker-twisting and ear-wigging ensues, with a couple of staged wallops and slaps thrown in for good measure. Polly Hemingway stood out in her performance as Clara Soppitt (wife of aforementioned Les Dennis’ Herbert Soppitt), and Tom Lawrence was rather dashing as the token southerner, Gerald Forbes. It was a shame we didn’t see more of his romance with Nancy Holmes, the Helliwell’s niece; their sneaking around added a nice dynamic to the play.

‘When We Are Married’ is well-worth a whirl for a lovely evening’s entertainment. Underneath the gags and silliness though is an insight into Priestley’s perspectives and an interesting commentary on the ‘nouveau riche’ of society and the institution of marriage (neither of which come out very favourably). It was all wrapped up with a rendition of the titular song and a chorus of ‘On Ilkley Moor Bah’Tat’ for the home Yorkshire crowd, very much in the spirit of the play - good fun.

Photos: Keith Pattison
When We Are Married runs at the WYP until Sat 25th April 2009
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