Artistic license played the final night of their production of J B Priestley’s When we were Married to a full house and received a standing ovation as the curtain fell.
The Pembrokeshire based amateur theatre group returned to the stage following sell-out productions for Sister Act (February 2019) and Private Lives (July 2019) and are well known within Pembrokeshire for the quality and commitment of their work.
J B Priestley is most known for his dramatic play, An Inspector Calls, which has been on the school curriculum for years and become a firm favourite among readers and writers a like. When we areMarried is a glorious Northern comedy, by the same writer, which takes place in a country house on the eve of a triple silver wedding anniversary celebration. Except the three couples are horrified to discover that due to a minor detail by the vicar that performed their ceremonies, they were never really married at all. The revelation throws their lives into chaos, much to the amusement of their house staff, as they must question their choices and their future.
Artistic license takes this funny, heart warming and ridiculous story, and brings it to life, with a set design that looks like it’s been torn from the very pages of Priestley’s notebook, a live band (great musical direction by Sarah Benbow) and even an appearance by the Mayor of Milford Haven (Terry Davies as Mayor of Clecklywyke).
Priestley is known for his study of human interaction and director Carol Mackintosh ensures that nothing of the play is wasted. Every little nuance is there, every little character reference. Mackintosh ensures that time is taken to lay out the characters and their relationship, before the startling revelation at the centre of the play, brings everything into a new light.
The actors are sure in their roles, bringing a northern feel to the play from the very beginning. The first person we see on stage, is the house servant Ruby Birtle (played terrifically by Chloe Wheeler), as she welcomes a visitor to the grand house of Alderman Helliwell and his wife. Her friendly demeanour and open way of speaking immediately makes us warm to her as she bustles about the house and reveals things to the guest and to the audience.
Muriel Carpenter is comedy gold as Mrs Northrop, bitter by her poor treatment and disliking the lady of the house, she is delighted to hear, when eavesdropping at the door to the sitting room, that her employers are not legally married. As she moves slowly about the stage, in her working clothes, with her string bag full of possessions, she mocks the lady who once kept her. Her wicked, screeching laugh is infectious.
Glesni Edwards is heart warming as the sweet and good Nancy, who has been seen with her love interest, Gerald Forbes and no longer wants to hide her feelings from her family. The new generation of the Helliwell family, she seems more headstrong and wiser than her flailing aunty and uncle.
Alex Dukes as Gerald Forbes, is charming and funny. At first appearing as the outsider of the group, the boy whose reputation proceeds him and who is not a good fit in the family, later becomes the success as he reveals the devastating secret to the group, and promises to keep it quiet. He remains on the scene, although in the background, until his chance comes to sweep his girl off her feet.
The lead actors, in their coupled roles and as individuals, grasp the audience from the very first moments.
Marcus Lewis is fantastic as Herbert Soppitt, the timid, bumbling, drown trodden husband of sour faced Clara Soppitt (great turn by Terri Harrison) who gains courage from the news he learns. Every little nuance of his character is noticed. Even as he sits awkwardly at the side of the stage while his wife talks, the twitch of his lips, the blink of his eyes over the top of his glasses, the uncomfortable placing of his hands. Lewis is a wonderful physical actor and gives everything to his role.
Herbert’s hilarious eruption of anger and emotion, after being seen by his wife, singing at the piano with Annie, who he once was ‘sweet on’ is one of the highlights of the play. Lewis and Harrison
are a great team on stage and react well to each other.
Dan Bower (Alderman Joseph Helliwell) and Janine Lewis (as long suffering wife Maria Helliwell) play their roles beautifully. Helliwell spends much of the play striding around the room, projecting his opinions and distaste at the world, his wife appearing to just agree for peace sake, until the news of their not being married at all, sends him into a dithering spin. He almost becomes the Herbert Soppit of the play, as Soppit (Lewis) rises to the challenge and experiences the freedom it may offer.
As Maria Helliwell, Janine Lewis takes the female character to the Victorian extreme, and on learning the news, trying to keep it in eventually leads to her falling into hysterics, much to the bemusement of Clara Soppitt. Yet she becomes strengthened by the support of her friends.
Councillor Albert Parker (Will Oliver) is another pillar of society and his wife Annie Parker (Pip Marsh) is of a rather quiet and nervous disposition. Yet on discovering the news, Annie gains courage and questions her choices in Albert Parker. Oliver and Marsh portray their characters with great thought and emotion. There is a slight humour to Annie’s manner, as she makes small remarks about their situation to unknowing strangers. Annie appears the only wife who sees the potential and indeed some of the humour, in the startling revelation.
Particular mention must be given to Brian Harries as Yorkshire Argus’ photographer Henry Ormonroyd. A cheerful man who becomes greatly inebriated during the course of the play, completely unaware of the scandal unfolding around him, preferring to talk to Ruby and his old friend Lottie Grady (great turn by a colourful Margaret Harries), who causes more of a stir as she arrives at the house on learning the 3 men are still single.
Also to Luke Walters as young Argus reporter Fred Dyson and Geraint Sayers in a great supporting role as the Rev Clement Mercer, who puts the three couples in their place and ultimately resolves the situation.
The set (created by Torch Theatre, Sam Wordsworth) for Artistic License’ production is impressive. An Edwardian style sitting room, complete with furnishings and a beautifully ornate drinks/games table, backed by a wall full of antique photographs, which appears torn half way across, perhaps to reflect the destruction at the heart of the play, to reveal the town band. The band play during the interval and at one moment of brilliant comic timing (great musical direction by Sarah Bendow), strike through the stage, complete with banging drums, in celebration, as the three unmarried couples stare blankly ahead crestfallen with the news.
The audience loved this play. J.B Priestly has always appealed to the masses because of his wonderful study of human nature, his interest and fascination in people, in drama, humour and in connection. Artistic License do a fabulous job in bringing his vision to life, with some wonderfully talented individuals, from the director, cast members, musicians, set designers and crew.
They will be back in the summer with a production of the Shakespeare classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
© Amanda Griffiths