Reviewed by James Karas
Three couples who were married on the same day, in the same church, by the same parson are celebrating their silver anniversary. They discover that the parson who performed the ceremony was no qualified to do so and they are therefore not married.
That is essentially the plot of J. B. Priestley’s “Yorkshire farcical comedy” (his words) When We Are Married which is now playing at the Royal George Theatre as part of this year’s Shaw Festival.
It is a period piece, of course, written in 1938 but set in that wonderful if largely imaginary world of Edwardian England. It takes place in 1908 when women did not have the vote, cohabitation without matrimony was anathema, respectability was paramount and the sun was always shining..
Priestley has constructed a very pleasant play with some quite well developed characters, some satire and a great deal of fun. The cast directed by Joseph Ziegler deliver the madcap and the witty parts of the play in a well-rounded and highly entertaining production.
The three couples that go into stratospheric anxiety and anguish on learning that they are not married are at Alderman Joseph Helliwell’s (Thom Marriott) well-appointed Victorian house. He is pompous, self-satisfied and a man with a “past,” as they used to say. His wife Maria (Claire Jullien) is attractive and traditional.
Councillor Albert Parker (Patrick McManus) is stentorian, egotistical, stingy and stupid. His wife Annie (Catherine McGregor) is the longsuffering victim of this pompous ass who finds liberation in the knowledge that she never married him.
Herbert Soppitt (Patrick Galligan) is a henpecked little man who has been driven into the ground by Clara (Kate Hennig) his sharp-nosed termagant of a wife and been left with only a distant memory of a fleeting romance that, like the Edwardian summer, was more imagined than real.
The interaction among these six produces laughter and merriment that is very well done. But Priestley has added several relatively minor characters who steal the show. The fifteen-year old maid Ruby (Jennifer Dzialoszynski) steals the scenes that she is in. She is outdone by Mary Haney as Mrs. Northrop, the cook, who is frequently drunk, totally fearless and utterly hilarious.
There is one more show stealer in the photographer Henry Ormonroyd who is always drunk and uproariously funny. Peter Krantz sports a huge moustache, slovenly clothes and excellent comic acting. as you may suspect, there is "another woman" in the plot and in this case it is the entertaining Lottie Grady played by Fiona Byrne.
Priestley’s characters do develop amid the farcical elements of the play and there are satirical and touching components in the dialogue. Ziegler paces the performance very well and the cast manages to give us an indication of Yorkshire brogue even if at times I did not catch every word.
The panelled siting room of the Helliwells with stairs leading to the bedrooms is pleasant and done well by Set Designer Ken MacDonald.
You will get a lot of laughs, some interesting characters, a visit to a world long gone when marriage meant so much and quite a marvellous evening at the theatre.
When We Are Married by J. B. Priestley continues in repertory until October 26, 2014 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.