JB Priestley is a name that most probably dredges up long repressed memories of An Inspector Calls and GCSE English. Students might have had a better time if the set text was When We Were Married instead. JB Priestley’s comedy has been revived by Yorkshire theatre company Northern Broadsides. Maybe the younger audience had been scared away by the whispers of Priestley’s name as I felt I bought the average age of the audience down by a few decades, but they were only depriving themselves from a wonderfully boisterous and oddly charming play.
Perhaps it was fitting that the audience was mostly older couples as the plot follows the fall-out from a letter that reveals that three couples married on the same day twenty-five years ago had a problem with their documentation that renders them –gasp– merely cohabitants instead. Set in the Edwardian times this is of course beyond a scandal and ripe for gossip and there is laughter abound as the characters bribe and blackmail to stop their secret coming out. Finer comedic acting could have hardly been possible when the characters start to question whether they even want to re-marry, especially from the long down-trodden Annie and Herbert (Sue Devaney and Steve Huison) who find the courage to stand up to their respective partners and very drolly knock them down a peg or two. The supporting characters all bring their own brightness and laughter especially when Lottie, the Mistress, makes an appearance all dolled up in rouge.
The staging nicely dropped us into the Edwardian period with a few well-placed pieces of furniture for the characters to lounge across amusingly, as with Luke Adamson’s rakish young Gerald, and some spiky house plants to hint at the family’s wealth. The comedy may have been a little outdated and trope-reliant on the ‘woes’ of marriage, but it obviously still felt relatable, as mostly everyone around was poking their partner in the side and laughing. The comedy was bawdy and some actors did admittedly ham up their performance, only when their character called for it. A simple play delivered a night of simple, almost nostalgic entertainment that managed to charm the audience well.
(Images courtesy of Nobby Clark)