REVIEW: ‘When We Are Married’ by JB Priestley – Apollo Players

The lovely Apollo Theatre on Pyle Street, Newport has a reputation for staging top quality costume comedy dramas, and this one certainly lives up to expectations. It was originally scheduled for 2020 and although a major change of cast and director was needed, I am delighted the play has finally made it to the stage. A mention should be made of the original director, David Vince, who has sadly passed away: a page in the programme pays tribute to him.

The new director, Gwen Stevens, has definitely not only done David’s legacy proud, but has turned what could have been a dated show into a laugh-a-minute comedy, as evidenced by the audience reaction on the first two nights. Not the best known of Priestley’s plays, When We Are Married introduces us to three couples celebrating their Silver Wedding Anniversary, having all been married on the same day by the same minister. When that minister turns out to have been unqualified, and therefore the marriages to be invalid, each couple reacts very differently.

Pompous pillar of the community Alderman Helliwell, played superbly by Paul Stevens, sees preservation of the morals of the locals as his responsibility, right down to taking the new organist to task about being seen in the company of a young woman. What Helliwell doesn’t know is that his own reputation is about to be called into question by his loyal wife and an unexpected visitor. Maria Wilkinson delights as always in the role of Maria Helliwell, and the scene in which she appears with a basket containing the trappings of her domestic responsibilities is hilarious – to find out why, you’ll have to see the show….

Steve Taverner and Chris Turvey are also wonderful in their roles as the Soppitts – plain Mr and Mrs, as is pointed out several times. Clara is an opinionated woman who has clearly ruled her house and husband for 25 years – how will he react when he finds she is not actually his lawful wife and he is now free of her?

Completing the trio of couples are Councillor Parker, even more pompous than his friend Halliwell, and his mousy wife Annie. Peter Gale blusters and dominates the stage brilliantly as Parker, and Julie Stonestreet is perfectly cast as Annie, who says very little to start with – though she manages to say an awful lot with her expressions – but on finding out she is not married to Parker is far more forthright about what she actually thinks of him.

At times, amateur productions are let down by the acting of the minor characters, but not here – each of the supporting cast are every bit as talented – and funny – as the main actors. In fact Michael Arnell, as the increasingly inebriated photographer hired to capture the anniversary celebrations, is often in danger of stealing the whole show, especially when he is joined by the seductive Lottie Grady, played with aplomb by Rose Kelsey.

The talented Dave Newton is at his best as Gerald Forbes, the young organist, summoned to explain his own conduct, who then drops the bombshell news; the scenes between him and his paramour Nancy, played engagingly by Genevieve Dorling, are tender and sweet as well as funny. Ruby Bearman is suitably naïve and well-meaning as the maid Ruby, a wonderful foil to the gossiping, grasping Mrs Northrop who listens at doors and thoroughly enjoys spreading information about her social betters around the neighbourhood. Caroline Read, as Northrop, shows her great comic timing and delivery.

Ian Moth as Dyson even manages to garner a few laughs in his short time onstage – a tribute to his experience and talent – and John Abraham’s performance as the Reverend Clement Mercer who calls to offer his pastoral solicitation to the poor unmarried sextet also shows his experience and comedy talent.

The set, props and costumes are also worthy of comment as they perfectly support the creation of an upper middle class Edwardian Yorkshire home. The ladies’ dresses in particular are not only period-appropriate but give an indication of each lady’s personality.

In short, When We Are Married is a beautifully written and plotted play, superbly directed and acted to bring out every nuance of humour in the show: as I think every audience member so far will agree, it provides a brilliant evening’s entertainment, with the added bonus of enjoying a pre-and post-show drink at the newly refurbished bar. I can do no more than recommend you get yourself a ticket to one of the remaining shows – it runs until Saturday April 1st.

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