When We Are Married

by J B Priestley; dir Helen Withers
Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, Coventry
7 – 14 July 2012

In J B Priestley’s three-act play, When We Are Married, written in 1938 and set in 1908, three well-to-do couples get together to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their combined weddings and have it revealed to them that the vicar who performed the services was not authorised to do so and that they are consequently not married after all. Scandal and humour ensue before all is resolved in the end.

The three couples competently provided the meat of the story, with perhaps the Soppits providing the most laughs – convincingly henpecked Herbert (Rob Wootton) quickly eliciting the support of the audience and his domineering wife Clara, excellently portrayed by Chris Ingall. When ‘the worm turns’, the audience are right behind him. A similar struggle occurs between meek Annie Parker (Gennie Holmes) and her pompous husband, Councillor Albert Parker (Matt Sweatman), whilst the Helliwells, Alderman Joseph (Steve Crump) and Maria (Emma Withers) deal with the subject of infidelity. There was a slight casting problem with respect to age; not all of the couples looked old enough to have been married 25 years and the ‘young’ organist, well enough played by Pete Gillam, didn’t come across as much younger.

Around these are a good number of other characters who add some spice and eccentricity to the play. The highest spots were the appearances of drunken photographer Henry Ormonroyd, masterfully played by Keith Railton. The audience lit up every time he reappeared to give another brilliant rendition of physical comedy. Creating a similar uplifting effect, and without the benefit of so much experience, was Nicol Cortese as the young maid Ruby Birtle, played with a very endearing cheek and vivacity. Rachel Newey as the housekeeper also provided much entertainment on discovering her ‘betters’ are no such thing. And Jan Nightingale’s brassy barmaid, come to claim her stake in the now unmarried Albert, was portrayed to cause just the right degree of repulsion in the respectable couples.

An enjoyable play, well directed and brought up in level by some exceptional individual performances.

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