If you suddenly discovered, after 25 years of wedlock, that you had never legally been married to your spouse, what would you do?

When We Are Married

York Theatre Royal

Till Sept 24 @ 7.30pm; 2pm matinee Thursday, 2.30pm matinee Saturday

£11-£29

More details and book

These days such a situation would rate little more than an interesting footnote on Facebook – but in 1908, in the middle classes of “Cleckerwyke” (a thinly-disguised Bradford), it is nothing less than a full-blown scandal.

This is the premise of JB Priestley’s classic comedy When We Are Married in the more than capable hands of Barrie Rutter and Northern Broadsides.

Three self-made men and their wives discover, at their silver wedding celebrations, that the ceremonies were performed by a minister who was not authorised to do so.

The facades of propriety and rectitude that they have so carefully constructed come crashing down, as these pillars of the chapel realise they have been living in sin all this time. What will the neighbours say?

Faultless performances

From L R Sue Devaney, kate Anthony, Zoe Lambert, Kat Rose Martin and Geraldine Fitzgerald
From left: Sue Devaney, kate Anthony, Zoe Lambert, Kat Rose Martin and Geraldine Fitzgerald
Luke Adamson as Gerald Forbes and Sophia Hatfield as Nancy Holmes
Luke Adamson as Gerald Forbes and Sophia Hatfield as Nancy Holmes

The pompous and blustering Councillor Albert Parker (Adrian Hood), a man whose face is frequently as red as his silk waistcoat, is paired with meek and timid Annie Parker (Sue Devaney).

The hosts of the party are Alderman Joseph Helliwell (Mark Stratton) and Maria Helliwell (Geraldine Fitzgerald), and the third couple is the Soppitts – submissive Herbert (Steve Huison) and the dictatorial Clara (Kate Anthony).

The play lives or dies on the performances of the six characters, and in this production they are faultless. They change and develop throughout the evening as worms turn, options are considered, truths are told and personalities are almost forensically dissected.

Peacock colours

The trusted Northern Broadsides cast of When We Are Married
The trusted Northern Broadsides cast of When We Are Married
Steve Huison as Hewbert Soppitt and Sue Devaney as Annie Parker
Steve Huison as Herbert Soppitt and Sue Devaney as Annie Parker

Jessica Worrall’s design for the production is immaculate. The set, in varying shades of brown, cluttered with ferns on plant stands and spindly-legged tables, is a perfect Edwardian backdrop for the peacock colours of the women’s dresses and men’s waistcoats.

Into this tasteful palette burst the startling vermilion of Lottie Grady (Zoe Lambert), and the lurid suit and tie of Henry Ormonroyd (Barrie Rutter), in much the same way as these characters crash into the story.

Special mention must go to Kat Rose-Martin as Ruby Birtle, the Helliwells’ untidy 15 year old maid, with her complete inability to state anything but the truth on all occasions. Her timing is exemplary, and this audience completely fell in love with her.

There aren’t many things in life that you can always rely on – but you can always trust Northern Broadsides to deliver sharp comedy, perfect timing, and characters you can’t forget.