Thank you to Deidre Jones for the very kind invitation to review the latest presentation
from BreakaLeg Productions the J.B. Priestley classic When We are Married. It is
always such a pleasure to attend a production by this talented and always evolving
company in the wonderful setting of the picturesque Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon.
The crux of the story is of course that twenty-five years ago, Alderman Joseph and
Maria Helliwell,,, Councillor Albert and Annie Parker and Herbert and Clara Soppitt
are married on the same day in the same chapel and by the same person. They have
now gathered at the Helliwell home to celebrate their joint silver wedding anniversaries.
These staunch West Riding chapel folk, who are local pillars of the community, have
summoned the new chapel organist Gerald Forbes to reprimand him for courting an unidentified
young lady (who happens to be the niece of the upstanding Alderman Helliwell). To
their consternation, as the conversation to rebuke him unfolds it transpires that
he recently met the person who conducted the triple wedding ceremony, and who, because
of a technicality, was not authorised to do so. Pandemonium breaks out when the three
couples discover to their horror they have been ‘living in sin’ for twenty-five years.
The couples reel from the news and try to decide how they feel about the twenty-five
year commitment they've made to one another and even question whether they should
have been, or even if they should remain, married.
This was a cast of strong principal players with some excellent supporting performances
particularly from newcomers Lauren Carter who gave a spirited performance as the
cheeky maid Ruby and Georgia Brennan-Scott as the love sick niece, Nancy. These two
young actors really made an impression with their confident and believable performances.
Just one small point to remember that good diction and projection are very important
even in a tiny theatre like the Unicorn. There were times when I struggled to hear
the early dialogue although this greatly improved as I imagine both of you grew in
confidence. You both managed your very different accents with aplomb. Well done!
Chris Harris appeared towards the end of the play as the Reverend Clement Mercer
with an amusing turn as a slightly dotty vicar.
David Farndon gave an assured performance as Gerald Forbes the new organist who delivers
the bad news which I thought he did with considerable relish! David has a clear and
precise manner when delivering his dialogue which suited the character perfectly.
He certainly looked like he was enjoying playing this role very much. Very good diction
and projection was also firmly in evidence.
Jo Sokolowski almost stole the show as the hard bitten plain speaking house keeper
Mrs. Northrop. This was a great characterisation with plenty of good comedy timing
and some very funny facial expressions. A well maintained accent rounded off a memorable
performance. She almost got a round of applause as she stomped off after rowing with
her employers and telling them exactly what she thought of them. Congratulations!
Edmund Bennett played the tipsy photographer from the local paper with considerable
skill never allowing the depiction of being drunk to slip into caricature. Some
dialogue was delivered rather quickly but this may have been part of the characterisation
or the fact that he had considerable trouble making the decidedly wobbly tripod stand
up!! I was impressed with his tenacity and it indeed remained upright! A very well
maintained and convincing accent and some good comic timing all added to this impressive
Mike Varnon impressed as the prudish, self-important know-all Alderman Joseph Helliwell.
This was a strong and convincing portrayal and his consternation at the news that
he may have not be married was tangible. Mike used the stage well and was always
aware of his positioning and the interaction with the other actors was good. I liked
his accent, which sounded very authentic, an outstanding performance!
Viv Beckett was also on good form as his long-suffering wife Maria. This was an excellent
portrayal. Maria’s frustrations, pretentions and barely concealed anger were beautifully
realised in this sensitive characterisation. Viv’s diction and projection were first
class and she used the stage well - as if this was, and had been, her home for many
Rich Damerell was very good as the cantankerous and complaining Councillor Albert
Parker. He captured the essence of this faintly unpleasant and disagreeable man perfectly.
I noticed that Rich has great powers of projection and really the delivery of his
lines was a joy to listen to. He interacted well with the other cast members and
the ‘chemistry’ with his ‘mousey’ wife was very well handled. This was a completely
convincing characterisation of which I thick Rich should be suitably proud.
Councillor Parker’s mousy and timid wife Annie was played well by Ellen Phelips.
This was a well-judged characterisation and the way she turned the tables on her
over-bearing husband was a joy to watch. The icy rift that opened up between them
was captured beautifully. Ellen looked very much the part and used the stage well.
I would have liked there to have been a little more projection as some dialogue
was lost but this did not detract from an overall splendid performance. The accent
was well maintained and was very believable.
Herbert Soppitt was played by the dependable Jim Cottrell. This was a wonderfully
under-played interpretation of a hen-pecked husband, definitely under the thumb of
his wife, Clara. Jim’s comic timing and dead pan facial expressions were spot on.
He also surprised us (and maybe himself) by suddenly showing us a new side to the
character as he stood up to his bossy wife. I really liked this performance and Jim
obviously had a ball playing this character. Excellent diction and good projection
ensured we heard every word.
The nagging and over-bearing wife Clara Soppitt was played well by Mirja Boyd. She
was the perfect match for Herbert and they must have had great fun during rehearsals.
Mirja captured the bossy and prudish Clara with precision. A very convincing accent
with good diction and projection rounded off an accomplished performance.
Completing the thirteen strong cast was Sarah Enticknap as Lottie Grady a lady of
dubious credentials and one whom Alderman Helliwell would have definitely preferred
to have remained in the past as she arrived to spill the beans about a triste in
Blackpool. Sarah was very good and commanded the stage with her strong presence.
Sarah captured the character well and maintained a believable and consistent accent.
Again good diction and projection were strong features of this performance. Well
Director: Director Deidre Jones did a wonderful job with some memorable performances
from her largely experienced and very capable cast. The action was well paced with
just a slight lull in the proceedings when Ruby and Ormonroyd are left to discuss
the ensuing confusion as he becomes increasingly inebriated. The entrances and exits
worked well and the characterisations were strong and well delivered. I thought the
Northern accents were particularly convincing (being a Northerner myself!) The confines
of the Unicorn meant that every space and movement had to be carefully planned and
thought through which had certainly been the case in this production.
Sound/Lighting Mike Davies on the sound desk wasn’t kept too busy but the chosen music
was entirely suitable for the production perfectly evoking the period while Reg Berry’s
simple but effective lighting design added atmosphere and gave the production the
desired ‘look’ and ensured all the necessary parts of the stage were illuminated.
Make-up and hair: The hair and make-up looked very good and in keeping with the period
of the production. I feel it might be have been wiser to have all the ladies in period
wigs to give that overall ‘Victorian’ look.
Set Design: The set looked very effective and being a one set play there were no complicated
changes to be made between acts. I’m always amazed at how the BreakaLeg production
team manage to utilise the very small amount of available space to such good effect.
The period setting and dressing of the set looked impressive and the depth and perspective
made for a realistic appearance. The various entrances and exits cleverly using the
Unicorns tricky topography worked well and created a realistic feeling of a Victorian
middle class home. The period ‘gramophone’ was the icing on the cake!
Props: The props assembled by Angela Fitzgerald (who also doubled as stage manager
so a very busy lady indeed) looked in period and were handled with dexterity by the
cast. The pouring and consuming of drinks on stage can be a mine field of potential
disasters but the quite regular consumption of ‘port wine’ was handled very well
indeed. I liked the fake cigarette being ‘lit’ from the ‘candles’ - most effective.
The gramophone was a particularly striking addition to the set decoration as well
as being a very suitable and effective looking ‘prop’.
Costumes: The costumes co-ordinated by director Deidre Jones and Freda Scott looked
very good and were mostly representative of the era. I thought that Lottie’s skirt
was maybe a little too short for the period. The gentleman all looked splendid in
their various costumes though I would probably have given Gerald a more formal and
less ‘showy’ cravat. Shoes looked good and all the costumes fitted well.
Programme: The programme was well laid out with some interesting facts about the author
and the play itself as well as the usual cast biographies. I like the cast rehearsal
photographs with annotated names.
Finally, thank you BreakaLeg Productions and everyone associated with the production
for a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment and I look forward to hopefully
being invited to your next production.