Posts Tagged ‘J B Priestly’

The Old Red Lion Theatre had a huge success the same time last year with the world premiere of Arthur Miller’s first play No Villain, which transferred to the West End. Within minutes of it starting, you knew it was Miller. This J B Priestly piece was his second novel in 1928, then filmed by James Whale in 1932, but this is its world premiere on stage, and its an adaptation. Unlike the Miller, you wouldn’t really know it was Priestly if you hadn’t been told. If only it was a fraction as good as the Miller, though in all fairness the genre isn’t my favourite, even though Priestly is a favourite playwright.

The Waverton’s and their friend Roger get lost driving through the borders of Wales at night in a dreadful storm and take shelter in a scary mansion occupied by the equally scary Femm family. William and Gladys then arrive, but they aren’t a couple, which we soon discover when Gladys takes a shine to Roger. In addition to the Femm family, the mansion houses the even more scary butler Morgan. It’s more about the comic gothic horror than it is the story. There’s a lot of short scenes with people forever going in and out of doors and I’m afraid I found it irritating and inconsequential. It didn’t really go anywhere, but as I said, it isn’t my genre.

They make great use of the small space with an excellent design by Gregor Donnelly and staging by Stephen Whitson. There’s great sound and lighting. The acting is all very tongue-in-cheek. I appreciate that the novel / film was to some extent the first of its type and an influence for later things like The Rocky Horror Show, but I just couldn’t understand why Duncan Gates bothered to adapt it for the stage, though it has brought in the Priestly fans (including me!), it’s selling out, and the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy it a lot more. So lets just say ‘not for me’ and don’t let me put you off.

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This is the London premiere of an 84-year-old J B Priestly play, with his trademark wittiness and his usual foray into left-wing politics and morals – not the best of either, but certainly worthy of revival in this excellent production by Hugh Ross.

It’s set in the home of Lord Kettlewell, separated from his wife and by default his Oxford University daughter Pamela, trying to extricate himself from a relationship with Hilda Lancicourt. His daughter, now a communist, turns up straight from a period in the USSR, with new friend Comrade Staggles in tow. She turns out to be rather manipulative, much to the delight of lounge lizard family friend Chuffy who watches on gleefully. Before the play is through she’s fended off two men, bagged a third, despatched Hilda and reunited her parents. Lady Knightsbridge is an additional character who doesn’t really serve any purpose but is thoroughly entertaining, and of course there’s a butler and a maid who Comrade Staggles can encourage to rebel.

It’s actually quite densely plotted, though it’s a light and frothy concoction. That said, it made for a pleasant evening and a rewarding one if you ‘collect’ Priestly as I do (three still to see). Polly Sullivan’s design, incorporating the theatre back wall, is very clever and her period costumes are excellent. I thought Steven Blakeley was terrific as the earnest Staggles, and Bessie Carter’s professional stage debut as Pamela was hugely impressive. In an altogether fine cast, Richenda Carey’s cameo as Lady Knightsbridge shone through. 

It’s astonishing that it’s never had a proper revival or a London run. It’s not a great play, but it’s an interesting period piece by an important 20th Century British playwright and this production fully justifies the decision to let us see it at last.

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It’s twenty years since Stephen Daldry’s NT revival of An Inspector Calls renewed the theatre world’s interest in this oddest of British playwrights, who seemed very much out of his time in the last part of the first half of the 20th century. This very well cast 1937 rarity came halfway through his playwriting career, eight years before An Inspector Calls, and it again shows his preoccupation with time.

We’re at an inn on the Yorkshire moors on Whitsun weekend. Oliver, a young school headmaster, is recuperating from stress when he is joined by the Ormunds, a couple away for the weekend. There are connections between them and the landlord Sam and his widowed daughter Sally. Mr Ormund, a wealthy businessman, is a donor to, and governor of, Oliver’s school, which Sally’s son attends as a boarder, and Sam and Sally are shareholders in Mr Ormund’s business. Then an exiled German professor turns up; he seems somewhat mysterious, even psychic.

From here it’s a complex web of premonitions, alternative time tracks and deja vu, leading to a dramatic if inconclusive conclusion. Neatly staged on a curved platform with audience on both sides and three pieces of furniture that change position for each act, Anthony Biggs production has a mysterious quality to match the material. It’s not a great Priestly play, but it’s well worth catching if, like me, you’re interested in the playwright.

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I think I was born too late. J B Priestly and Terrence Rattigan are amongst my favourite 20th century playwrights and Ealing comedies amongst my favourite films. I therefore relish any opportunity to catch a J B Priestly play and booked for this rare revival six months ago! It may not be vintage Priestly, but it’s a charming, original (yes!) and thoroughly entertaining piece with a uniformly superb set of performances.

J B Priestly specialised in domesticity with gentle humour and a moral dimension. Here, we’re in suburban north London in the 1930’s where the Redfern’s and their adult daughter have Mrs Redfern’s sister and brother-in-law to stay following their return from a posting in the Far East. George Redfern is in the paper business, his daughter Elsie is about to get engaged, Bernard bangs on about life in the colonies and Lucy is a nag who criticises everything. So far, so suburban.

Imagine the shock when George confesses to his daughter, her new fiancée and the in-laws that he’s a crook. The engagement is off, as are the in-laws. Is this what George wanted? Is it true? Does his wife know? Then, as in his now most famous play, an inspector calls.

Though it’s a touch slow at the start, Oscar Toeman’s production soon becomes a delightful and charming light comedy. The confession is so at odds with what you’ve seen up to that point, it differentiates the play from its contemporaries or indeed much that has followed it. It has that warm feel of an Ealing comedy and, like The Ladykillers, a secret produces a delicious turn of events. Lily Arnold’s 30’s living room set is by necessity sparse, given the lack of space but, together with splendid period costumes, it perfectly captures the time and place.

Whatever you think of the play, you could not resist as fine a set of performances as you’d wish to see. Timothy Speyer is terrific as pompous brother-in-law Bernard as is Lynette Edwards as his righteous and indignant wife. Robert Goodale keeps George deadpan so you’re never sure whether he’s a crook, a joker or cleverly orchestrating events. Karen Ascoe as his wife Dorothy is in the background for much of the first half, but comes into her own after the interval and is masterly at the play’s conclusion.

This was only Priestly’s second play, twelve years before the other inspector called, and you can see the foundations for that later play being laid – all is not what it seems. I’ve never seen the film they made from it and it hasn’t been staged in London in the 30+ years I’ve lived here, so yet again huge congratulations to the Finborough Theatre for uncovering it. Another little gem.


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Bliss. A proper play. The Finborough have done it again and made a timely discovery of a seemingly forgotten 77-year old play and given it a superb production with a crack cast.

Cornelius is a partner in an aluminium trading firm which is facing bankruptcy. The business has been trying to continue its principled style whilst the rest of the world of business has become much more competitive, hard-nosed and ethically dubious.  His partner is away trying to drum up trade (apparently) whilst he runs the office and fends off creditors and endless sales reps (‘travellers’ – I’d almost forgotten the term!) many of whom have turned to selling in desperation during the tough mid-30’s. For good measure, we also have the mystery surrounding what has actually been happening to partner Murrison on the road and unrequited love both by and of Cornelius.

It’s a slow start as the situation and characters are introduced, but when it gets into its stride it draws you in and zips along. Designer David Woodhead has created a brilliant period office environment and Sam Yates staging makes great use of the limited space. The performance style also takes time to settle. I found the acting a bit OTT at first, but I think this is getting used to the behaviours for the period; a rhythm develops and it becomes more realistic.

Cornelius is on stage almost the whole time and Alan Cox has to strike the right note as a benevolent businessman with a sprinkling of naivety without making him a patronising bore; he pulls it off beautifully. Col Farrell seems completely at home as Chief Cashier Biddle from the outset; a lovely performance. There are fourteen other fine performances from 10 actors – too many to mention, but all worthy of it.

The subject matter is right up J B Priestly’s moralistic street, but the parallel between his time and ours is simply extraordinary. Yet again we find the Finborough brings us important revivals whilst others are endlessly re-cycling Shaw, Ibsen & Chekov. A bucketload of theatrical brownie points!

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I’m fascinated by the work of J B Priestly, but we rarely get a chance to see more than a few of his plays. Stephen Daldry’s iconic NT production of  An Inspector Calls seems to be on tour permanently and When We Are Married gets wheeled out fairly often, but that’s about it. The NT gave us Time & The Conways a couple of years ago and Southwark Playhouse put on the very rare They Came to a City earlier this year. So here was a chance to catch this one on tour to Richmond.

It’s more conventional and less moralistic, political, radical and experimental than I’ve got used to from Priestly. They say it’s his most Chekovian, a comment likely to put me off I’m afraid. We’re in the Kirby household, where widower Dr. Kirby is looked after by daughter Lilian whilst son Wilfred is working in Nigeria and theatrical daughter Stella has been on tour now for eight years. Wilfred is home on leave when Stella springs a surprise visit and the family dynamics unfold. Lilian resents Stella leaving her as homemaker and being the subject of local boy Geoffrey’s infatuation whilst she has designs on him herself. Stella’s confession that she married a fellow actor secretly on tour enables Lilian to get her own back.

Laurie Sansom’s production is virtually faultless. He has a fine attention to detail and evokes Edwardian society brilliantly. I wasn’t convinced  by the backdrop of Sara Parks design, but her drawing-room was appropriately claustrophobic and spot on for the period (not that I personally remember 1912!). There isn’t a fault in the casting, with Charlotte Emmerson and Daisy Douglas particularly good as Stella and Lilian and an auspicious professional debut by Nick Hendrix as son Wilfred. Daniel Betts really came into his own in the terrific drunk scene in Act III.

This will never be my favourite Priestly – too Checkovian! – but I’m glad I saw it in a production it would be hard to better.

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This is a very welcome and very rare revival of a J B Priestly play much along the line of An Inspector Calls. Goodness knows what they thought of it in 1943 – despite the wartime setting and a somewhat dated preachiness, it’s still challenging 68 years on.

Nine characters emerge from different places outside the walls of a city. Priestly’s concern with class means there are three from the upper class – a knight, a lady and her daughter,  three from the middle class – a man from The City, a bank manager and his wife and three from the working class – a seaman, a waitress and a char lady. We don’t know how they got there or why,  but we eventually discover – when the gates open – the city is some sort of egalitarian utopia which attracts some and repels others. Five return from whence they came (one reluctantly), two stay on and two miss the deadline whilst their love for one another is played out.

I’m not entirely clear what point he’s making – maybe prophesying a post war ‘third way’? – but in any event, it’s an intriguing and interesting ride. The Southwark Playhouse’s Vaults (under London Bridge station) is a perfect space in which to create the mysterious atmosphere. There’s no set as such – just a couple of walls and a doorway – but the costumes are enough to place the play in its period. The production does misfire occasionally, notably with music that often jars – particularly the faux fanfares that accompany each character’s first entrance with a follow spot, but it allows you to evaluate the play unhindered by any directorial concept.

The characterisations from all nine actors are excellent. James Robinson conveyed the idealism and passion of Joe very well and Thomas Shirley brought the money obsessed Cudworth to life. You empathise easily with the frustrated and unfulfilled bank manager as portrayed by Daniel Souter and Jean Perkins’ char lady is an absolutely delicious cameo.

Great to catch a rare Priestly and a gold star to Southwark Playhouse for providing the opportunity.

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I felt like I’d gate-crashed a party. The rest of the audience was clapping entrances & exits and whooping & cheering lines and performances. The set looked like one of those period rooms in a museum – ‘Victorian Mill Owners Parlour, 1908’ – which had come alive with all of these people in period costumes.

I’ve seen the play twice before – in 1988 with Patricia Routledge, Prunella Scales and Patricia Hayes (who had been the maid in the original production 50 years earlier) and 14 years ago with Alison Steadman and Dawn French – but this time it seemed much more of a creaky old warhorse, the stuff of rep and tours that rarely gets into the West End but was paying a visit and had brought its provincial audience with it.

It’s not very typical of Priestly, a playwright much more fond of moralistic pieces like An Inspector Calls. It’s a simple comedy about three couple who, on their silver anniversaries, discover their marriages may not be legal. It’s well structured and there are some funny lines, but it now seems insubstantial stuff – though in all fairness it was two nights after my second look at the extraordinary Clybourne Park.

The chief pleasure – and I mean this affectionately not patronisingly or critically – is seeing a bunch of old pro’s like Roy Hudd, Sam Kelly, Lynda Baron and Maureen Lipman letting their hair down and having some late career fun; in the end this proved a bit infectious and I warmed to it (though that may have been the third glass of wine in the interval!).

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