They Came To A City by J B Priestley - directed by Angela Gee
"This rarely performed play by J.B. Priestley, written in 1943 at the height of World War II, shines its less-than-subtle satirical spotlight on capitalism and the class system. Since the social mix of characters was rather more skewed towards the aristocratic in a way we wouldn't see as realistic today I wonder whether some tinkering with the script would have updated the look and feel of the piece. Although the sentiments expressed are theoretically timeless there were several characters that didn't sit well with the way we look at society today. The production was also hampered somewhat by the, no-doubt pragmatic, choice of Jean Speller and Andy Millward as Alice Foster and Joe Dinmore respectively. They both did an excellent job, had some of the best dialogue and created real tension and emotion between them. However, they did not have youth on their side which I suspect was essential to create maximum audience empathy for this couple. Without the impetuosity and idealism of youth some of the characterisation could be interpreted as simply envy and morosity that is more looking back at a wasted past than eagerly awaiting a triumphant future. I haven't seen the play before but suspect that sympathy for Joe and Alice is the crux of the play. They are the couple that rise above their desire for personal happiness in the mysterious City in order to spread the news elsewhere.
The set was a truly timeless juxtaposition of city walls or battlements and a large golden door and yet the costumes firmly placed the action in the 1940s. Would modern dress have worked, with Cudworth in a loud suit and red braces; Lady Loxfield played more as a widowed social-climbing trophy wife and her daughter a gum-chewing NEET desperately seeking a worthwhile idea to cling to? Maybe, maybe not but as a period piece it was harder to translate the ideas expressed to today despite the fact that they remain very relevant. Nevertheless I enjoyed this production which was extremely thought-provoking and showcased some good acting skills, particularly from Helen Langley as Mrs Batley, whose apparent acceptance of her harsh lot in life evoked considerable sympathy.
Congratulations for reviving a little seen play and giving it a thorough airing. I do understand the constraints of casting and acknowledge that within those constraints They Came to a City was well done. I look forward to the next production."
Stewart Adkins-National Operatic and Dramatic Association
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