20 October 2016, The Tablet

Timeless conceit


 

The play by another dramatist that Alan Bennett would most like to have written, he told me in a recent interview, is J.B. Priestley’s When We Are Married. Bennett, who admits to finding story difficult, admires the 1938 comedy for its “perfect plot” and the representations, close to his heart, of Yorkshire character and speech.

That latter element makes the play a perfect choice for the Northern Broadsides company, which specialises in Pennine-accented theatre, and artistic director Barrie Rutter’s production shows the clear line of descent from Priestley’s intricately constructed domestic farce to the work of the Leeds-born Bennett and the Scarborough-based Alan Ayckbourn.

The play’s cunning begins with the title, which seems at first to refer to Gerald and Nancy, young lovers in a community where three couples of impeccable civic respectability – one of the men an alderman, another a local councillor – are jointly celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of weddings that took place on the same day in the chapel of which they are stalwarts. The sudden revelation of an administrative error that means they are not legally husbands and wives remains one of the great plot données of theatrical comedy, and, from revelation to resolution, Priestley handles the mechanics perfectly.

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