When We Are Married, A Director’s View

Our March show is J.B. Priestley’s Edwardian comedy of manners, When We Are Married, set in 1908 and first performed in 1938. Director Anthony Campling gives us his take on this classic comedy.

Married-3What is the play about?

The main themes are class and marriage, and the latter’s being synonymous with respectability. It also touches on the pomposity and hypocrisy of the nouveau riche (self-made men and their wives), and the North-South divide. Other serious issues such as absurd aspects of religion, upstairs/downstairs, and excessive drinking are all dealt with in a very humorous manner.

What made you want to direct When We Are Married?

I chose this particular play on the recommendation of some actors I’ve got to know through the wonderful Terence Rattigan Society (which I joined last year after directing The Browning Version. I had wanted to direct another Rattigan but the rights to Separate Tables weren’t available.) I didn’t know it, but read it and was impressed.

How have you found the process?

The main challenge has been the humour – the dialogue is superb and most of it is tremendously funny, but comedy, as everyone knows and says, is demanding. Timing is key and, there are more than 130 entrances and exits for us to get to right – to the the fraction of a second. Of course it’s also a period piece, and the force of the satire can be lost if it isn’t handled carefully.

To some extent, the change in attitudes towards marriage and also the general demise of the institution might seem to lessen the relevance of those aspects of the play, so we have focussed on the relationships inside the marriages. In contemporary society, the turmoil over the validity of the marriages seems more like light-hearted nonsense rather than the really horrific and terrible issue it would have been then!

Married-4Are the characters lives still relevant?

I think the audience will share my own enjoyment of the characters, who are so very “rich” and demand very directly that you like and approve of them (sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t!) The dialogue is usually direct, argumentative and very funny. Although it’s a farce, the development of the plot is, on the whole, completely believable and down to earth.

You have some new members in the cast, don’t you?

Yes Emily Prince, Amy Flinders and Jeremy Clyne. There are also some SLT favourites too; John Lyne and Fiona Daffern reprise their roles from SLT’s 1997 production as the Yorkshire Argus photographer Henry Ormonroyd and Clara Soppitt respectively – Fiona was then ridiculously young for the part but is now approaching the right age!

When We Are Married opens on March 15

Text by Caroline Beckett, Images by Káit Feeney