I Have Been Here Before

J B Priestley

Nottingham Playhouse

(2007)

Review by Steve Orme

One of Priestley's "time plays" along with Dangerous Corner and Time And The Conways, I Have Been Here Before was inspired by Russian mathematician and mystic P D Ouspensky's theories that whatever happens has already occurred many times and will do so again . . .

I Have Been Here Before is probably the least performed of the trio. On the evidence of this Nottingham Playhouse production it's somewhat dated, which may be why it's not dusted off as much as Priestley's other works.

It's set in an inn on the Yorkshire moors. Industrialist Walter Ormund and his wife Janet are fortunate enough to get rooms in the Black Bull when three Manchester teachers pull out at short notice. The couple meet young headmaster Oliver Farrant, recovering from nervous exhaustion, who is unavoidably attracted to the neglected wife.

The arrival of German refugee Dr Gortler who has had a premonition about the presence of the three guests leads them to believe they've played out this scenario in the past. They then have to decide whether to redefine their future.

Playhouse artistic director Giles Croft's production is a period piece which contains a number of stereotypes.

David Acton, while playing the part of Dr Gortler superbly, looks the typical professor who could easily be saddled with the description "mad".

Robin Kingsland is a bombastic businessman who has more time for his work than his wife - "holidays are for boys and girls, not men" - and Robert Austin is everything you would expect from a 1930s pub landlord, although at times it's difficult to understand his Yorkshire accent.

The production is dangerously close to becoming a caricature of what Priestley intended, especially on the night I saw it when the audience often laughed in unexpected places.

Aoibheann O'Hara as Janet Ormund hardly helps matters as she tends to be melodramatic and shrieks her lines in emotional scenes.

It's left to David Acton and Penelope Woodman as fussy, bossy, gossipy landlord's daughter Sally Pratt to bring the evening back from the precipice of oblivion.

There's the occasional touching scene as relationships change and the doctor tries to persuade the guests that déjà vu doesn't have to mean their future is predetermined.

But on the whole it's a disappointing evening which doesn't have enough high spots and seems longer than it really is because of two continuity-breaking intervals.

One of Priestley's "time plays" along with Dangerous Corner and Time And The Conways, I Have Been Here Before was inspired by Russian mathematician and mystic P D Ouspensky's theories that whatever happens has already occurred many times and will do so again . . .

"I Have Been Here Before" runs until May 12th