‘This is Herbert Soppet all over – he couldn’t even get us married right!’
J B Priestly’s ‘When We Are Married’ might seem a strange choice for an Amateur Dramatics company to perform; a comedy in three acts set in the small Northern town of Clecklewycke. However this production marks the end of the Criterion’s fiftieth anniversary year, and mirrors the first production ever performed there, now over a half-century ago. Using the play as an anniversary celebration is particularly fitting since the action of the production centres around 3 couples, each celebrating 25 years of marriage. That is, until they find out that the pastor who ‘married’ them was not officially ordained, making their marriage vows effectively null and void.
The play is a comedy from start to end and this company fantastically exploited this. The set was brilliant, forming the front room of Alderman and Mrs Helliwell’s where all the action takes place. The room was cut in half diagonally, with the corner falling down-stage centre to make the audience feel incredibly involved, as if the seating formed the other half of the room. This couldn’t help but contribute to the sense of engagement coming from the stalls as events unfolded onstage. There were ‘oohs’ let out spontaneously as characters were slapped across the face and ‘ahhs’ as cast members came to the end of tuneful renditions of stage show classics.
Looking round the audience at almost any point in the play I could see only smiles; no yawning, watch-checking or blank expressions proving that the actors were doing a fantastic job.
Priestley’s witty one-liners were delivered with perfect comic timing and expression and the period costumes and attention to detail of the set designers made you feel like you really were back in the 40s.
But despite the slapstick humour generated by a drunkard photographer and the witty lines, Priestley’s subtle comments on contemporary life also shone through. The role of women in society and philosophical questions of marriage were carefully disguised as entertainment by cast members whilst still causing audience reflection throughout the two intervals and after the show had finished.
The group musical number to finish had the (ever so slightly) older members of the audience singing along and brought a beautiful close to a wonderful show. ‘When We Are Married’ fully deserved the full house it received.