This is the first London revival of Priestley’s state-of-the-nation play since its year-long run at the Duchess in 1947. Framed as a troubled family reunion to celebrate Professor Linden’s 65th birthday, it is also firmly rooted in the struggles of a nation that won the war but lost the peace - faced with years of austerity - plus Scotch whisky for export only.
Linden, played with droll irony by Oliver Ford Davies, is an Oxonian professor holding a Chair of history at a redbrick university, but on the cusp of retirement, forced by a Vice-Chancellor with a utilitarian approach to education.
This would suit Linden’s long-suffering wife (Anna Carteret) desperate to leave the drab Northern town, prompted by the prospect of life in a luxurious Hampshire manor, acquired by their son Rex (Roger Barclay), a dubious Stock Exchange trader.
Meanwhile their grown-up children, arriving for the celebration, squabble against the squalid backdrop of England in its post-war state of dishevelment - notably Elizabeth Marmur’s Marxist medic, working all hours at a London hospital, and her younger sister (Hannah Yelland) chicly-gowned in a Dior two-piece, a Catholic convert living well in ‘la belle’ France.
Christopher Morahan’s hand-picked cast includes Jennifer Higham’s delightfully gauche younger daughter, Deddie Davies as a cockney housekeeper and Rachel Coffey as a bespectacled student of history who takes a shine to Rex.
Over a longish evening the pacing and staging are masterly, with 1940s radio soundbites to set the period. But these like the political events are also now a closed book, which this entertaining production valiantly does much to reopen.