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When We Are Married review at Theatre Royal, York – ‘robust and spirited’

Geraldine Fitzgerald, Kate Anthony and Sue Devaney in When We Are Married at York Theatre Royal. Photo: Nobby Clark
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With Northern Broadsides’ 25th anniversary year fast approaching, it’s about time that Barrie Rutter’s Halifax-based company took on JB Priestley’s classic comedy of marital errors, When We Are Married.

Hen-pecked husbands, brow-beaten wives, worms turning, self-made local bigwigs losing face, uppity servants – there’s something quaintly old-fashioned about Priestley’s fun-poking at the expense of The Helliwells, the Parkers and the Soppitts – respectable Edwardian couples who have stepped up the social ladder but suddenly teeter on the brink of social disaster when they discover their joint marriages were unlicensed and they’ve been living in sin for 25 years.

But aside from the hilarious sight of marital ties unravelling and community pillars crumbling as spouses are forced to reconsider their attitudes, it’s the undiluted Yorkshireness of what Priestley called his “broadly farcical comedy” that is right up Northern Broadsides’ street.

Rutter’s spirited touring co-production with York Theatre Royal has no trouble evoking the provincial smugness of the fictional West Riding town of Cleckleywyke, on a set that immediately evokes the plush domesticity of potted parlour palms and flock wallpaper.

Local accents and speech rhythms are spot-on. And although the play’s sexual and cultural mores reek of another era – the jolly dance tacked-on at the end simply celebrates sentimentality and a return to the established status quo – the cast compensates with some fine character-based comedy, including Sue Devaney’s timid Annie Parker quietly pricking the bloated pomposity of Adrian Hood’s Albert, along with Rutter himself giving a full-on turn as the permanently sozzled photographer from the local paper.

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A robust, spirited revival with an authentic edge