J B Priestley
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
This is Priestley’s first play, written in one week to prove to himself that he could do it, and it seems he has thrown in every device he can think of to keep the attention of his audiences.
Drug taking, marital infidelities, homosexual love and even murder (or was it suicide) combine in a way which must have been totally shocking to a 1932 audience. Today’s audiences are less shockable, and the play stands by its clever construction and the rather complicated plot.
Gary McCann has designed a sumptuously elegant living room where the action takes place and present are four exquisitely gowned women, relaxing with cigarettes after a dinner party—the men presumably finishing their port and cigars.
Three of the women are obviously friends of long standing. They speak in the rather stylised and brittle manner of the period and of their social class, and novelist Miss Mockridge (Posie Armstrong), while enjoying the gossip, rather envies them their ‘snug little group’.
They have just caught the end of a radio play entitled The Sleeping Dog and are discussing it’s meaning. Olwen (Kim Thomson) suggests that the Dog represents the truth and it’s better to let it lie, and she has good reason to believe this.
Unfortunately, when the men return and cigarettes are handed around by hostess Freda (Finty Williams), Olwen herself is caught out in a lie, which Colin Buchanan’s Robert pursues relentlessly, and eventually unpalatable secrets from all the group emerge to devastating effect.
From there on, the play becomes a succession of revelations, a box of tricks with the audience trying to work out who is married to who, who is having an affair, and who is madly in love with the wrong person, many of the secrets revolving around Robert’s dead brother, Martin.
Everyone has something to hide, and with each new revelation the story becomes more and more implausible and, despite the excellent cast doing their best to keep everything on an even keel, there were laughs in places which I’m sure Priestley had not intended.
Lauren Drummond’s Betty seems the most nervous and is anxious to return home, but she later returns (is mistaken for a prowler in the garden—yet another twist) and has her own confession to relate, while Matt Milne as her husband Gordon gives an anguished performance of unrequited love.
The most impressive performance, however, is from Michael Praed as the debonair Charles Stanton, his relaxed and rather sardonic humour being more to the taste and appreciation of a modern audience, but without losing any of the feeling of the period.
This being the first of Priestley’s ‘Time Plays’, there is a neat twist at the end when we are switched back to the beginning, and putting on the radio and dance music creates a completely different ball game.
Director Michael Attenborough brings out the best in all the cast, keeping the rather convoluted subject matter of the play moving smoothly along.
Enjoyable, but not exactly a thriller.
Reviewer: Sheila Connor