When We Are Married

J B Priestley
Garrick Theatre
(2010)

When We Are Married publicity photo

As well as writing socially astute and intriguingly philosophical dramas, that grand old Yorkshireman J B Priestley knew how to construct a comedy. When We Are Married is funny from start to finish and will ensure that its visitors leave the Garrick with broad smiles on their faces.

His main targets are the kind of self-appointed Yorkshire workers' aristocracy that ruled the roost with a rod of pomposity in the period around 1908 when the play was set.

They may live in overstuffed but tasteless luxury, as depicted by designer Simon Higlett, and tell their wives and each other how important they are but, just beneath the surface, these mini-masters of the town rather than the universe were no different than the ordinary folk they bossed about.

The plot is deceptively simple but highly effective. Three couples get together to celebrate their collective silver wedding having been married on the same day. Much to their shocked dismay, they discover that the parson who married them was not qualified to do so.

From there, the fun takes over. In an instant, their social standing is left in tatters as the servants, led by Lynda Baron as the impudent Mrs Northrop, laugh at their no longer betters and troubles begin to flood in.

Director Christopher Luscombe has been blessed by his producers with a cast filled with popular favourites and they come together to make the most of a delightful script, everyone demonstrating the impeccable comic timing that makes or breaks such a show.

David Horovitch is our host, pompous Alderman Helliwell. He may be a pillar of the community but a saucy secret that does not impress Susie Blake as his self-important wife, Maria.

The other couples seem badly mismatched. Sam Kelly is the best of the lot as henpecked Herbert Soppitt, the victim for 25 interminable years of Maureen Lipman's terrifying Clara until the worm finally turns to the delight of everyone in the theatre. They contrast with Simon Rouse's boring Councillor Albert Parker who has made his mousy wife Annie, played by Michelle Dotrice, a martyr for just as long.

When they all discover that the marriages are voided, there is a rare chance to review the situation, much to the delight of us all.

In addition to the leading sextet, Roy Hudd as a drunken photographer with a mischievous streak is on top form, especially in a song and dance number with Rosemary Ashe, as is Jodie McNee playing Ruby, a cheeky servant-girl from Rotherham with the kind of straight faced innocence that guarantees hilarity.

Christopher Luscombe's star-studded revival of When We Are Married is a lovely, laughter-packed evening that will give pleasure to all.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher