FAMILY values come under the microscope in J.B. Priestley’s examination of what it means to be “married”.
Does living with someone for half a lifetime effectively make you their husband or wife, or do you actually need the paperwork to make it official?
And if you were freed from your vows unexpectedly, would you stick with your partner or think seriously about twisting with someone else?
Such questions are posed and the resulting options explored as three couples come to terms with the news that the parson who they thought had tied their knots 25 years ago was not fully qualified to do so.
Pillar of the community Alderman Joseph Helliwell (Frank Bardsley) and his wife Maria (Gloria Elford-Box) have gathered puffed-up councillor Albert Parker (Mark Kilnurn-Stones) and long-suffering other half Annie (Elaine Veal) and their hen-pecked mate Herbert Soppitt (Mark Hague) and his acidic missus Clara (Sue Briggs) for a feast at their well-to-do home.
Well stuffed and self-satisfied, they toast themselves, patronise the servants and generally act as their lofty status allows, although it doesn’t take long for cracks to appear in the facade of suburban bliss and the bickering to begin.
The illusion is shattered for good by the grenade-like revelation from young chapel organist Gerald Forbes (Greg Muscroft) — much-mocked by the proud Yorkshiremen as a “la-di-dah” Southerner — that the group’s marriage vows were all for nowt.
The Soppitts’ and Parkers’ reactions are particularly interesting and well-played, the previously-dominant Clara and Albert being forced to re-examine their behaviour in the face of their partners’ new-found freedom.
Sozzled photographer Henry Ormanroyd (Barrie Judd) brings further comedy as he shambles around the stage and his train of thought tumbles off the track, while the Advertiser’s own Dave Doyle makes an assured debut as an earnest vicar.
A special mention should go to Jill Connell as likeable maid Ruby, who sets the tone by opening the show with charm and enjoys the play’s standout monologue as she fills in Ormanroyd on what he’s missed while down the pub.
Confidently performed and smoothly staged throughout, despite a steady stream of entrances and exits, Phoenix’s production achieves Priestley’s mission of puncturing pomposity, skewering snobbery and exposing the danger of taking your partner for granted.
When We are Married is at Rotherham Civic Theatre until Saturday.