Friday, November 26, 2010


'When We Are Married' at The Garrick
 Here’s the premise: three couple were married on the same morning, in a chapel in Yorkshire in 1883. They have now gathered to celebrate their joint 25th wedding anniversary. Through a convoluted set of circumstances, it transpires that the parson who married them wasn’t licensed to do so, and now it seems that they may not be married after all. Once the initial shock wears off, several of them consider what they might now be free to do.....

J. B Priestley wrote his comic play ‘When We Are Married’ in 1938 and it has been a staple of the repertoire in English theatre ever since.  Off I went to yet another London Victorian theatre jewel – this time The Garrick– to see the fun. As you may perhaps have noticed, I’ve become a bit addicted to these quintessentially English period costume comedies. A little experimentation in the theatre is all very well, but I think I’ve had enough for a while of the Sydney Theatre Company fare of gallons of fake blood, simulated nastiness, severed heads and gloomy stories. When Chekhov is the funniest thing in the season, you know you’ve got problems. I am enjoying this English fluff enormously.

The Garrick Theatre

Actually, ‘When We Are Married’ is so well-written and was so well played that it really went beyond comedy. There were plenty of laughs, but also curiosity, great character development, and some sad moments. In all, a delightful night in the theatre.

Michelle Dotrice
The cast consists of a venerable troupe of players (most of whom look like they would be more likely to be celebrating 50 years married rather than 25). The stars for me were Maureen Lipman as Clara, Sam Kelly as her hen-pecked husband Herbert, Michele Dotrice as Annie, and Jodie McNee as the young maid Ruby – with the thickest Yorkshire accent I’ve ever heard in real life. The older actors have an amazing list of theatre, television and film credits to their names – possibly the one you might recall best is Michelle Dotrice’s role as Betty in ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’ with Michael Crawford. Needless to say, they were all superb, with brilliant comic timing and wonderful stage presence.

Roy Hudd played the photographer Henry Ormonroyd – Roy is apparently an extremely well known face on television here, and he has a long career in stand-up comedy, pantomime, music hall, farce and musicals. This role is a character role plum, and has been played in the past by Ronnie Barker.  Famously, the author, J B Priestly himself, stepped into the role for ten nights during the first run of the play in 1938 when the actor was indisposed.

The play is set ‘oop north, in a fictional town in Yorkshire, but the model is said to be J B Priestley’s own home town of Bradford, a mill town, described in the 1840s by a visitor as ‘the most filthy town I visited’. However, boom times came, hundreds of spinning and weaving mills were opened, men made money in Bradford, and it became known as ‘Worstedopolis’. In the play, two gents discuss the price of merino wool in Australia. The well-to-do folk of Bradford were Wesleyans, Baptists and Congregationalists (sounds like my childhood) and church was called ‘chapel’ – Joe and Albert in the play are ‘big men in chapel’. An evening listening to turn-of-last century Yorkshire accents was fun.

And I must mention the set, which received its own round of applause when the curtain went up – a lovely overdone Edwardian sitting room, highly detailed, with a conservatory off. The designer was Simon Higlett, who interestingly was also the designer for ‘The Rivals’ – a strikingly different set altogether, as readers of a recent blog post on the subject may recall.

J B Priestley
J B Priestley dominated the London stage in the 1930s and 1940s – you may know ‘An Inspector Calls’ or ‘The Linden Tree’. He was also a prolific writer of books – ‘The Good Companions’, ‘Bright Day’, ‘Lost Empires’ – and also wrote travel stories, commentary, memoir and social history. As the program notes put it:

He was a life-long socialist of the old kind, yet never joined the Labour Party. He was a spokesman for the ordinary people, unashamedly middlebrow, patriotic and honest, and opposed to the class system. He turned down the offer of a knighthood and peerage, but gladly accepted the Order of Merit in 1977. He died in 1984.

Clearly a fine old Englishman.

I think I’ll go and see ‘An Ideal Husband’ next. I’m addicted to this stuff.

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