A farcical delve into quirkiness of marriage

Peter Biggers, Mary Frater, Sally Miller, Robin Lewsey, Margaret Neale and Gary Brown are among the cast of When We Are Married being staged by Alnwick Theatre Club.
Peter Biggers, Mary Frater, Sally Miller, Robin Lewsey, Margaret Neale and Gary Brown are among the cast of When We Are Married being staged by Alnwick Theatre Club.
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When We Are Married, Alnwick Theatre Club, Alnwick Playhouse, Thursday, April 26.

WHETHER it’s 1908 or 2012, many of the trials and tribulations surrounding married life remain the same, and a ripe subject for comedy.

If you think you are married but then discover that the last 25 years may have been a lie, then it is even funnier.

And this is why When We Are Married, JB Priestly’s 1938 comedy about three married couples celebrating, or thinking they’re celebrating, their silver wedding anniversaries in a small town in Yorkshire, still has relevance today.

The play was written about 50 years before I was born and is set another 30 before that, but while the setting – the parlour of a relatively well-to-do home – is traditional, the comedy and themes remain relevant.

When We Are Married sends up small-mindedness among the middle-class ‘dignitaries’ as well as the stereotypical forthright, penny-pinching Yorshireman relentelessly.

In his programme notes, director Tony Neale writes that to some critics, the characters are nothing more than Yorkshire stereotypes.

But he concludes that while it may possibly be ‘a play with a trite message about stereotypical characters’, it is also one of the funniest plays produced in the 20th century.

I would agree that the notion of stereotyping matters not a jot when you are sat laughing your way through two hours of top entertainment.

And Alnwick Theatre Club certainly did it justice last Thursday night, amusing me and the rest of the audience as an evening of genteel celebration descends into farce.

The main characters are concerned with ‘decency’ yet as events unfold, their pomposity is well and truly pricked.

The three men – Alderman Joseph Helliwell, Councillor Albert Parker and the hilariously ‘henpecked’ Herbery Soppitt, and their wives – are respected members of the community in Clecklewyke.

But at the celebration for their silver wedding anniversaries, having all married on the same day 25 years previously, they learn that they were never married at all.

The church’s new organist, Gerald Forbes, a Southerner no less, is summoned by the trio for a talking-to as he has been seen out fraternising with girls.

Little do they know that it is only one girl, Alderman Helliwell’s niece Nancy Holmes.

Mr Forbes reveals that he once met a former pastor who recalls marrying three couples in Clecklewyke when he was unlicensed to do so.

The main plot of the play unfolds as these three couples, terrified of the potential loss of social standing, come to terms with their lives together.

What sets the play apart for me though is the real strength and depth of the supporting roles.

Jade Curran was great as the cheeky young maid, Ruby Birtle, while Helen Gee, as lady of ill repute Lottie Grady, caused another layer of awkwardness when she dropped by at the party.

It’s a foolish man who says ‘if I wasn’t married I’d marry you’ if he doesn’t mean it!

But the stand-out for me was Jimmy Dodd’s absolutely brilliant performance as Henry Ormonroyd, the photographer from local paper the Yorkshire Argus, who gradually becomes more and more ‘squiffy’ as he continues to reappear at the most inopportune moments.

But despite the couples’ insistence that they don’t want any photos taken after learning of their predicament, it’s lucky that the highly-intoxicated Mr Ormonroyd sticks around as it is he that saves the day.

At the end, he reveals that he was the other man married by the pastor while he was unlicensed but (unfortunately in his case!) the marriages are still valid as the registrar was present and qualified.

I saw the performance on its second night of four and it was a remarkably polished performance, if not perfect, from the amateur group.

While the performance I attended on a rainy Thursday wasn’t full, considering there were still two nights to come, it was a good turnout and all those in the cast and crew should be congratulated for their efforts.

BEN O’CONNELL

CAST (in order of appearance)

Ruby Birtle – Jade Curran

Gerald Forbes – Mark Miller

Mrs Northrop – Philippa Mawer

Nancy Holmes – Kate Devlin

Henry Ormonroyd – Jimmy Dodds

Alderman Joseph Helliwell – Robin Lewsey

Maria Helliwell – Sally Miller

Councillor Albert Parker – Peter Biggers

Herbert Soppit – Gary Brown

Clara Soppit – Margaret Neale

Annie Parker – Mary Frater

Lottie Grady – Helen Gee

Rev Clement Mercer – Daniel Watkins

Mayor of Clecklewyke – Tony Neale

PRODUCTION TEAM

Director – Tony Neale

Stage Manager – John Firth

Assistant Stage Managers – Sandra Blake and Hannah Firth

Set Construction – David Gibson and club members

Costumes – Karina Biggers and Hilary Whitelam

Lighting Design – Tim Swinton

Lighting – Andy Nicholls

Production Photographs – Brian Hunt and Jacqueline Linsky