When We Are Married | 22-27 April 2013

by J.B.Priestley. Directed by Alice London.

When We Are Married - April 2013When We Are Married sees three couples who were married on the same day, at the same church, celebrating their 25th wedding anniversaries. The couples have positions in society and a public image to maintain. The husbands are leading members of the local non-conformist chapel and two of them have seats on the local council.

The celebrations seem to be going well until the husbands discover to their horror that the minister who married them did not have the appropriate legal qualifications. Given their standing in the local community, the couples initially want to keep the whole business hushed-up. But as events unfold, some of the individuals involved see a chance to escape from relationships that have been rather less than true marital bliss.

A play with many amusing moments and dialogue as relevant today as when it was first performed in 1938.

When We Are Married cast photo

 When We Are Married - set

More photos below.

The cast:
Alderman Joseph Helliwell                Richard Trantom
Maria Helliwell                                    Carolyn Taylor
Councillor Albert Parker                    Del Stone
Herbert Soppitt                                   David Kinch
Clara Soppitt                                        Christine Lever
Annie Parker                                        Sandie Campbell
Gerald Forbes                                      Matthew Sanderson
Henry Ormonroyd                              Joseph Hughes
Nancy Holmes                                      Ruth Aylward
Fred Dyson                                           Nigel London
Mrs Northrup                                      Penny Vetterlein
Ruby Birtle                                           Alice Foster
Lottie Grady                                        Janet Clark
Rev. Clement Mercer                         Jeremy Clarke

Backstage:

Stage Director                                      John Heather
Set design & decor                               Bill Ransom
Set construction                                   Andrew Heather, Adrian Pope, T62 members
Lighting Design                                    Jon Lewis
Sounds Design                                      Ian James
Stage Manager                                     Heather London
Asst Stage Manager                            Nicky Wilkinson
Technical Support                               David Hart, Andrew Herbert, James Quinn
Props                                                     Beryl Neal
Costumes                                              Joan Martin assisted by Diana Quinn & Valerie Polydorou
Make-up/hair                                      Jean Golder, Polly Hart
Prompt                                                  Nina James

House Manager                                   John Heather
Refresments                                         Audrey Knighton, Lynne Craig
Raffle                                                    Sally Guttridge
Box Office                                             Lynne Craig
Programme Editor                              John Guttridge
Poster/Programme Design                Graham Copeland

Production photos (click to enlarge) by Andrew Herbert:

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Rehearsal photos below.

Review by Raymond Langford Jones & John Oakenfull:

“Introduction

We thoroughly enjoyed this production of Priestley’s popular ‘well-made’ comedy.  Above all, it was a remarkable directorial debut from Alice London, who very successfully achieved an excellent ensemble piece from a rich cast of fourteen – mainly experienced actors – who worked together beautifully and made this popular old play fresh all over again.  A well-drilled and crafted production with plenty of pace and attack – and everyone played their parts to the hilt.  Very well done!

Having just spent time recently with a professional fringe company in Manchester watching one of Ned Hopkins’ plays come to life, you have no idea how spoilt we are in community drama with the amazing technical and staging resources we have, the time to spend on getting it to look right – and above all, the size of the audiences!

Background

Huge fun though it is, with its light-hearted but lively satire on the middle-class marital mores of the Edwardian period, we couldn’t help thinking the play’s creaky construction is, nevertheless, starting to show its age. Consider the contrivances to get people on or off stage so that information can be imparted!

And When we are Married is, of course, not an Edwardian play.  It was written in 1938, just before the outbreak of WW2, not long after French Without Tears and a couple of years before Blithe Spirit.  Like Rattigan and Coward, Priestley also judged the need for light-hearted respite from the constantly depressing news coming from across The Channel.  Here he pastiches the popular Northern comedies of a generation or so earlier, such as Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice and Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes. They may be, arguably, better and less formulaic, but this play has also stood the test of time and is every bit as entertaining on its own terms.  And it would certainly have reminded members of the audiences of the world their mothers had been used to – and how things had changed so much for women since 1914.

The Production

So yes, a well-judged, well-paced, well-balanced production, with no weak links amongst the large cast.  No one was being carried here.  The young people looked young and the middle-aged got away with looking forties-ish – for the times. Priestley’s people are deliberately two-dimensional, and many are stock light comedy characters – yet every member of the cast made his or her role their own.

The floozy was beautifully floozy-ish but with the truthfulness that Janet Clark always brings to her characterisations, and the eccentric star-turn drunk just the right side of wobbly not to actually fall over! Indeed we got a more subtle interpretation of the photographer Henry Ormyroyd (Joseph Hughes) than we too often do, maybe because his Yorkshire-ness was the ‘real thing’ and not ‘put-on’.  But the accents generally came over well and consistently from everyone.  And Joseph provided just the right ‘air of beery dignity’, banishing the memory of countless famous comedians who have undermined this play with their ‘solo comedy turn’ in the past.  It’s very difficult to play drunkenness successfully, but he pulled it off.

Alice Foster drew a lot of cheeky fun from The Pert Maid, Ruby, with good pace and attack and a twinkle in her eye. This is a real ‘stock character’ and none the worse for it, especially when it is played with truth, warmth and humour as it was here. There wasn’t anything more that Matthew Sanderson and Ruth Aylward could have done with The Romantic Young Couple than look personable and set the scene charmingly. Nice, clean, rounded performances from both of them.   Of course, Gerald is also responsible for the key plot device and the scene where he is summoned to be carpeted by the pompous older men, and turns the tables on them by revealing the ‘appalling secret’ – was nicely judged.  Another stock character is The Parson – in this case The Rev Mercer (Jeremy Clarke).  What could have been a thankless cameo – the Tedious Voice of Reason – came over well, partly because he looked and sounded so perfectly the ‘grave clergyman’.  And Nigel London, T62’s perennial matinee idol, provided a suitably ‘cheerful, cheeky youngish reporter.’  The use of strong, experienced actors in even the humblest roles, enriched the whole evening tremendously.

And of course, there was Penny Vetterlein’s Mrs Northrop.  Now why did I keep thinking of the evil fairy Maleficent, in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty every time she appeared?  Not the sort of person one should have got on the wrong side of! Penny got everything she possibly could out of this role which is written on one note, and made an impact on her every entrance.

During the course of one evening, the three anniversary couples learn more about themselves and their relationships than they ever did in the preceding twenty-five years – and, hopefully, they will never be quite the same again.  These were nicely contrasted couples too, and if two actors stood out it as especially entertaining and revealing, it was only because they drew the lucky straws where the writing was concerned; all three were well-matched and effective in their own ways. Carolyn Taylor made a confident and formidable Maria Helliwell, whilst Richard Trantom brought her boring-without-realising-it husband Joe to life well – we all know those types: control freak wives and the smug local councillors who are alive, well and kicking noisily in Bromley to this day.

Of the three men, however, it is Herbert Soppitt who is the really hen-pecked one.  It’s unsurprising that he and the warm, sympathetic Annie have always had a tendresse for each other. So the funniest two scenes in the play, for me, are also the most human.  The first being the scene where the erstwhile, kindly mouse, Soppitt, finally roars at the shrew; and here, Christine Lever and David Kinch showed what first-rate comic performers they are. David never fails to bring warmth and humanity to every part he plays, whilst Christine was an excellent foil to him as Clara.

But our Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress must, on this occasion, go to Sandie Campbell, who quietly rang every ounce of humour from the other great scene, where she slowly castrates Albert, as she proceeds from ‘demure’ to ‘devastatingly honest’ – a gift for any actress, which Sandie seized with both hands.  She understood the secret is to play the scene with stillness and a completely straight face, letting it slowly build from one put-down to the next – whilst Albert blusters and fumes, until the pay-off:

Albert: Why don’t you dye your hair and paint your face and go on t’stage and wear tights.
Annie: I wish I could.

Theatrical bliss!  Del Stone as Albert partnered her perfectly, exemplifying the self-satisfied, self-made and chauvinistic male of the period – and then some decades on.

Set (Bill Ransom and Adrian Pope)

As soon as the curtain ‘rose’ we felt rocketed back over century ago to the home of people our own grandparents would have felt very comfortable in.  Gorgeous red wallpaper, super period furniture, the green contrasting well with the walls.  Well-chosen décor and, of course, Bill’s charming vistas seen through the windows. If we had a quibble, we’d have liked a larger carpet to hide those floorboards.  But it was the appalling amdram French windows – sans architraves – which tried hard but just failed to spoil an otherwise perfect, authentic period set.

Lighting (Jon Lewis)

The lighting was good.  The play opens in the early evening with daylight still streaming in through the window and the conservatory – and then, when the curtains are drawn, the on-stage lighting sources appeared to be the lamp fitting suspended from the ‘ceiling’ and two wall gas lamps.  Personally, when directing, we prefer the use of table and standard lamps as the presumed sources of light on small stages, rather than wall fittings and suspended ‘central’ lights , but nevertheless the lighting worked well, so that is just us being subjective.

Sound (Ian James)

The title of the show comes from a delightful duet in the 1897 American musical comedy The Belle of New York – a popular song that the Helliwells & Co would have sung round the piano.  We were a bit surprised when the tune for Love & Marriage introduced each Acts, as this was a 1955 song made famous by Frank Sinatra.  But it turns out it was written for a TV version of Our Town which is set in the same period.  And certainly the lyric was apt and did what it needed to. All other sound effects were spot on as usual.

Properties (Beryl Neal)

Full marks for the period furniture and props.  Everything looked suitably, Edwardianly busy – yet managed to be tasteful and coordinated.  You really believed in this room and that was largely down to the selection of pictures and ornaments etc and how they had been arranged.  Sadly, we hear that Beryl who led the Props Team is going into semi-retirement, but what a high to go out on go, Beryl – and congratulations for all your brilliant work on this and countless previous productions!

Wardrobe (Joan Martin, Diana Quinn and Valerie Polydorou)

The show was dressed well and overall looked good – especially the three wives, who were suitably, fussily dressed in smart contrasting frocks that said ‘special occasion’ without being grand evening wear – which was not required at this social level.  And the wigs (Jean Golder and Polly Hart) and hair pieces looked really natural.  Nancy was nicely contrasted in a simpler, younger style, and Ruby was well turned out as the Maid in her best uniform.  We felt that Mrs Northrop, even though she is a ‘working woman’ would probably have worn a hat. The men’s costumes worked fine, but they would all have worn stiff, separate collars. 

In conclusion

And well done, too to Heather London (SM) Nicky Wilkinson, David Hart, Andrew Herbert, James Quinn, Nina James and the entire backstage crew.  But congratulations to Alice on her first, big, splendid production.  Everyone, though, should be justifiably proud of themselves for a very satisfying evening in the theatre!”

Raymond Langford Jones & John Oakenfull, May 2013 

Croydon Advertiser review by Peter Steptoe:

“What a pleasure it was to see again Priestley’s take on Edwardian life in Yorkshire.

The set evoked superbly the new middle class values of the fictional wool town of Clecklewyke with all its pretensions. The plot was that three middle aged couples celebrating their silver wedding discovered they were not legally married.

Matthew Sanderson as Gerald the chapel organist about to be sacked, nicely turns the tables with his letter containing the news. He and Nancy (Ruth Aylward) provided the love interest and made a charming couple. Ruby (Alice Foster), the maid, great northern accent, was not subservient and Mrs. Northrop (Penny Vetterlein), as the cook displayed further independence by eavesdropping.

The three married couples, of which Del Stone as Albert Parker was boring and stingy to his poor wife Annie (Sandie Campbell) but got a great many laughs doing so; Joe Helliwell (Richard Trantom) fought a resolute domestic duel with his doughty wife Maria (Carolyn Taylor) who was a worthy opponent and Herbert Soppit (David Kinch) gave a masterly performance of the worm turning on his wife (Christine Lever), whose task in life was unpleasantness.

Joseph Hughes gave a gentle portrayal as Henry Ormonroyd the drunken photographer and Nigel London made the most of the small part of Fred Dyson the Argos Reporter.

Janet Clark as Lottie Grady the brazen barmaid and Jeremy Clarke as Rev. Mercer were credible characters.

Alice London must have enjoyed directing it.”

Rehearsal photos:

IMG_5554 IMG_5564 IMG_5574 IMG_5577 IMG_5579 IMG_5586 IMG_5587 IMG_5588 The Director + some of the cast

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