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Reviews of THE ROSE AND CROWN: August 2016

J B Priestley's The Rose and Crown Arbery Productions

The Rose and Crown
by J B Priestley
directed by Martin Foreman
Edinburgh Fringe 2016

cast list
The Rose and Crown Edinburgh Fringe 2016

24 August 2016

edinburghguide.com (pdf)
Arbery Productions brings of a forgotten play from J B Priestley, best known now for the multi adaptations of An Inspector Calls, his wonderful satire on society's hypocrisy set in early 20th century England. The Rose and Crown was written in 1946 as a BBC TV drama and brings together in its 40- minute duration Priestley's astute observations of human interaction along with the spooky appearance of a life changing stranger.

We're inside the stark public bar of the 'Rose and Crown', whose words show in reverse on the pub's window. Three small tables with bentwood chairs are gradually occupied by the locals who place their orders of mild, bitter and brown stout, their choice of drinking area and drinks indicating their working class status. Fred, the invisible barman, silently serves through a dull '40s style wood divider from the lounge bar beyond, where more expensive gins and lime will be among the orders of the day.

The six strong cast of worthies, all perfectly clad in the styles of the time, range from the cheery local spiv Harry Tully (Charles Finnie); Mrs Reed the hypochondriac (Hilary Davies), the hirpling old Mrs Peck (Beverly Wright) who all bring real authenticity to their characters and don't miss a beat in their delivery of Priestley's text, but notable are Chris Bain and Hannah Bradley as the young married couple Percy and Ivy whose dynamics are perfectly captured and Oliver Cookson as the a grumpy middle aged small businessman Mr Stone. Cockney accents are given a good stab at all round by the Edinburgh based cast.

When a disconcerting stranger (Oliver Trotter) appears in their midst, all their talk of death, ill health and general moans and groans about life come back to haunt them as one of them has to willingly leave with him forever. Find out who that is in this fine resurrection of a gem of an old fashioned drama that is a wee oasis among the Fringe madness not just because of its short running time but because of the high quality of this amateur company's production. Thoroughly enjoyable!

Irene Brown

27 August 2016

original post
The Rose and Crown is a one-act teleplay from J B Priestley written for BBC in the post-war years of grim austerity, envisioned as a morality piece as well as a flirtation with his usual tinkering with time and reality.

The play revolves around the patrons of a typical London pub, who each arrive in the establishment, order a drink then mostly grumble or snipe at each other with petty recriminations until a strange suited and clearly supernatural man arrives with an ultimatum. One of them must come with him and between them they must decide upon who goes.

Priestley's little-known teleplay has been freshly adapted for the stage by Arbery Productions with an apparent view to drawing more of the humour and humanity from the piece. Drawing from the text with a playful banter between the actors, they squeeze a great deal of laughter and jocularity from the lengthy establishing pre-amble to the conflict.

Between the grumpy plumber, the cheeky curtain twitcher and the cheerful spiv, the cast manage to paint a recognisable evocation of post-war England in all its murkiness and commonplace grind. It's only when the spectre appears that they each scramble to point out their own worth and reasons for survival.

It's a well acted and craftily staged performance, with only a couple of niggling issues bringing down the whole. One is that the adaptation seems to have removed some of the explanation behind the appearance of the spectre, leaving the nature of where the people are being taken assumptive rather than explicit, leaving a tantalisation of a particular twist which hangs for a long time over the plot.

That said, it's a work that ought to be better known and Arbery has proven it has the chops to bring it to the masses.

Graeme Strachan

Note: this reviewer came on a night when a technical hitch resulted in part of the play being omitted - which explains the fact that the reviewer felt that some of the explanation had been removed. If he had come on another night, might he have given the production five stars?

25 August 2016

original post
Assiduously performed, and building up an air of mystery, The Rose and Crown has much about it that is striking.

J.B. Priestley's short play - originally written for television - is set in a London pub shortly after the Second World War. Affected by shortages and rationing, most of the customers bemoan the state of their lives - something they may have cause to regret once a mysterious stranger arrives

A problem arises due to the piece's television origins, in that it largely features a group of people sitting in a public bar. Arbery Productions' version - essentially the Grads' offering from this year's SCDA competition - is given on a thrust stage. Actors remaining still with their backs to the audience cannot be avoided. This not only looks static and uncomfortable, but leads to the odd audibility problem.

Some wobbles in the accents also surface, but the standard of performance is high. Oliver Cookson's grumpy Mr Stone and Hilary Davies's Mrs Reed strike a suitably dour note. Chris Bain and Hannah Bradley convince as young couple the Randles, with Bradley's spot-on timing as Ivy adding a much needed note of humour.

Bev Wright does very well as the cantankerous Ma Peck, a role that seems to be the prototype for endless EastEnders matriarchs but discharged with style and life, while Charles Finnie's Harry is a complex characterisation. Oliver Trotter takes on the difficult role of the Stranger with an appropriately icy calmness.

Martin Foreman's direction strives hard to overcome the problems of the acting space already mentioned, and largely does so. The mixing of the realistic and the mystical that features in much of Priestley's drama is well done - the problem lies in the original play. Like many mysterious pieces of drama, it carefully builds up an atmosphere that is always going to be lost when what is really going on is revealed.

An Inspector Calls, of course, solves this problem by leaving much unresolved. Here, the denouement is prosaic and even preachy, as if Priestley was lamenting how the togetherness that the War had forced on people had been replaced by bitterness and self-absorbed carping.

This, then, is no lost classic, but is certainly an intriguing if slight work, largely done justice by a committed cast

Hugh Simpson

26 August 2016

original post
There's always a good smattering of obscure, seldom-performed or minor plays at the Festival Fringe. Many prove to be hidden gems. Others provide the necessary evidence as to why they have been almost forgotten. The Rose and Crown probably falls somewhere in the middle.

J.B. Priestley wrote it in 1946 as a television drama for the BBC. A year later, he adapted it for the stage. It fits into his period of preoccupation with time. His most celebrated play, An Inspector Calls, was completed in 1945. This work is far less complex, almost simple, except for the appearance of the Stranger and the unsettling turn he gives to events.

The date is established in this production with famous radio clips of speeches from before during and after the Second World War. Rationing would not end until 1954 so as the customers gather in the pub there is moaning chat about food, clothing, the cold and a generally bleak future. Ages range from the young couple through the middle-aged and on to the old lady. Arbery Productions creates some classic stereotypes of the period, vaguely reminiscent of characters who might have been seen in the Rovers Return in the early years of Coronation Street. They rarely sparkle and attempts to define them are often overstated. The conversation is rather dull in content and languid in performance, plodding on from one topic to the next betraying old rivalries and bitterness. But then, the Stranger's entrance causes a chill and the debate he throws them into certainly livens up proceedings. Now they must face up to what they said not that long ago.

The Rose and Crown is a classic piece of unremarkable and inoffensive amateur dramatics. It's a good opportunity to see a plain performance of a rare work. It's a reminder of how theatre and pubs used to be and explains why they have both moved on. It might give you something to chat about over a drink in your own local, but probably not for long.

Richard Beck

23 August 2016

original posts
Director Martin Foreman's production of the J. B Priestley post-war play 'The Rose and Crown' does provide a fairly clear explanation as to why the script so rarely makes it to the stage. This is a baffling 40 minutes of a show, 35 minutes of which consist of six characters grumbling over their miserable state of affairs in a dreary London pub.

The dialogue is plodding and really quite trying - unsurprisingly listening to squawking old women complaining of stomach trouble, and irritable men moaning repeatedly that "business is bad" is hardly captivating stuff. To give credit to the production, the bleak hopelessness felt across a Britain that had been ripped apart by war for the previous six years is conveyed well, with the dusty amber lighting and dull-coloured 40s suits creating an ambience that can only be described as overwhelmingly brown.

The actors cannot really be blamed for the flop of the show; despite a few slips of accent, much of the dialogue is performed well, with the perpetual squabbles of the ageing Bertha Reed and Oliver Cookson, played assuredly by Hilary Davies and Oliver Cookson respectively, being memorably the most fraught and plausible of the character tensions. The issue with all of this, though, is that however well the actors may have delivered their lines, there is little joy or revelation garnered from witnessing dislikeable characters squabble over their trivial and self-consumed worries. The more cheerful Harry Tully (Charles Finnie), is meant to be the generous-hearted beacon of the play, but his characterisation is affected and overdone, and I simply found his ostentatious do-gooding irritatingly self-righteous.

We have no investment in anyone on the stage, no emotive tug that keeps us enticed or engaged by the arguments unfolding before us, so when a mystical outsider arrives on the scene and bizarrely announces that the six characters must choose which one of them will die that evening, not only am I utterly confounded by the most disjointed plot I have ever come across, I am also wholly indifferent as to who the victim will be.

Needless to say, it is an odd choice of theatre to put on, but having decided to tackle it, why not try something fresh with it? Use sound to create a tension that was missing for much of the show, or cut the moaning dialogue so that we see it in a montage, leaving more space for the moral inquiry at the end of the play, or more drastically still give the dated play a new lease of life by staging it in the context of modern day concerns? My problem with the production is not that it is poorly executed, but that there is a lack of imagination and ambition in the directorial approach to what is really quite a bland script.

Hannah Congdon
Six civilians from London walk into a bar; not the beginning of a tedious joke, but rather the beginning of a tedious play. Arbery Productions' decision to perform J. B. Priestley's 'The Rose and Crown' at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a definite risk, and unfortunately the choice of the lesser-known play does not pay off.

Set in 1940s Britain, the audience watch as characters are forced to deliberate on their lives and decide on each other's fate; a premise which has the potential to make for an interesting and thought-provoking production. However, the rushed script and underdeveloped plot line result in a hasty performance, and one that leaves audience members perplexed and wanting more when the lights turn on.

The play presents to the audience six very different characters in post-war Britain, whose introductions are centred around the local pub, The Rose and Crown. In terms of setting and costume, the decision to stick to period clothing and props may have been an attempt to keep this production true to its origins, however instead it comes across as outdated and dull. With a number of innovative and vibrant shows at the Fringe, it is a shame that director Martin Foreman has not chosen to alter the aesthetics of 'The Rose and Crown' in an attempt to make the production something out-of-the-ordinary.

However, it is true that the actors in 'The Rose and Crown' do the very best with the script that is given. Each portrayal is alive with characters quirks, from the happy-go-lucky Harry Truman (Charles Finnie) to the cynical Edward Stone (Oliver Cookson). However, the real stand out in this production comes in the form of The Stranger (Oliver Trotter). Prowling eerily around the stage before he enters, Trotter annunciates his lines with no more emotion than an sinister robot, completely detached from the difficult scenario he has thrust upon these people.

Although it is undeniable that the actors have talent, it is frustrating that the poor choice of play does not allow for anyone to reach their full potential; the story line is far too rushed to allow for any interesting development in terms of plot. One might say it would benefit to stick to convention and perform "An Inspector Calls" than wander down the more mundane path-less-travelled.

Zoe Bowman

Note: I understand that these reviewers might not have enjoyed the play - it's not to everyone's taste - but their comments would have carried more weight if they had got the name of the characters correct (Oliver Cookson did not play Oliver Cookson and Charles Finnie did not play Harry Truman). Nor is it helpful to give spoilers without an alert.

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