The Rose and Crown
Edinburgh Fringe 2016
committed for the 2016 Fringe,
Arbery Productions took over with the original cast, except for the role of Percy when the original actor became unavailable.
Post-war 1940s Britain is cold, rationed and bleak. In a London pub a group of drinkers are complaining about their lives when a stranger enters
and makes an unusual request.
On 27 August 1946 BBC television broadcast an original short play for television, The Rose and Crown by J B Priestley. Only a few thousand people, all in London, owned a television set and those who tuned in that night would have been very familiar with the setting of the drama. The Rose and Crown was a typical London pub and those who drank there - the local plumber, a young married couple, the alcoholic pensioner and the cheerful chappie - were recognisable characters. So too were their concerns - barely a year after the end of the Second World War, Britain was a miserable, grey country with shortages and rationing a fact of life for everyone. Less recognisable, perhaps, was The Stranger . . .
This production began life in early 2016 as an Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group ("The Grads") production for the Scottish Community Drama Association One-Act Festival. It was a finalist in the the Eastern Divisional Final, where it won the SCDA Bob Buchanan trophy. Because EGTG were fully
"fine resurrection of a gem...Thoroughly enjoyable!"
"well acted and craftily staged"
"carefully builds up an atmosphere"
Edward Stone, plumber & shopkeeper (Oliver Cookson); Ivy Randle, housewife (Hannah Bradley); Percy Randle,
warehouse assistant (Chris Bain); Bertha Reed, widow (Hilary Davies);
Kathleen Peck, alcoholic (Beverley Wright); Harry Tully, ducker & diver (Charles Finnie)
above: The Stranger (Oliver Trotter)
Director: Martin Foreman
Stage Manager and the unseen barman Fred Norton: Gregor Haddow
Thanks for your support!
To put on this production we aimed to raise £2,600. Thanks to an offer of a free ticket for each donation of £20 and the opportunity to a post-show meet & greet with the cast and crew and other fundraising, we received £2,010. With a loan we put on a very successful show. Ticket sales earned £1,895.82; after expenses of £2,544.50, we had £1,361.32 to distribute. Donors were offered a choice of getting some of their money back or to sharing it equally among the cast and crew in recompense for travel and other expense. In the end, £1,275.60 was distributed to the cast and crew, together with a generous donation from the J B Priestley Society.
Thanks also to the fabulous Jazz Romantics,
featuring our very own Beverley Wright (Ma Peck), for playing at our fund-raising evening at - where else? -
The Rose and Crown in Rose Street, Edinburgh on 16th April 2016.
Snapshot of the Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group ("The Grads") production of The Rose and Crown
for the 2016 Scottish Community Drama Association One-Act Festival, at which it won the the Bob Buchanan Trophy
in the Eastern Divisional Final. All the original cast, except Alan Patterson (fourth from left),
appeared in the Arbery production at the Edinburgh Fringe. The set changed from the proscenium (traditional) stage above to thrust (audience on three sides) in theSpace on Niddry Street.
Seventy years ago . . .
As mentioned above, The Rose and Crown debuted on BBC television on 27 August 1946 - seventy years to the day to the last night of the Arbery Production in Edinburgh.
That night we celebrated with a small glass of port (for the significance of that drink you will have to see the play).
History - or at least the internet - does not record what contemporary reviewers thought of The Rose and Crown. (The only information we have found is the picture below from
birth-of-tv.org and the cast list from
BBC schedules.) There was, it seems, a theatrical run in 1947 but we have not been able to identify which theatre or who acted in it. Since then it has been occasionally produced by community / amateur groups.
For much of the twentieth century J B Priestley was a familiar name and voice across the UK. With a string of best-selling novels and successful plays to his name, he had been a frequent commentator on the radio during the Second World War, his quiet but strong Yorkshire voice drawing millions of listeners to the wireless. A socialist, his views helped lay the ground for the Labour Party's victory in 1945, which led to the establishment of the welfare state. Later he was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
(see Priestley's entry on Wikipedia)
Harry Tully (John Slater), Ivy Randle (Jane Barrett), Percy Randle (Carl Bernard) and Bertha Reed (Phyllis Morris) in the original
television production of The Rose and Crown
photo copyright BBC
John Boynton Priestley
Priestley's concern and empathy with the common man and woman (several of his plays focus on women as much, if not more, than on men)
comes through in all his work. Another interest of his was Time; several of his plays examine the same situation from different periods in time.
In Time and the Conways, by interposing the future between two moments in the present, he forces the audience to compare the ideals of youth with the reality of later life.
In Dangerous Corner the plot splits - at one point a series of events leads everyone to see the ugly truth underlying their lives; when the scene is repeated,
those events are narrowly avoided and life for everyone continues in convenient ignorance. An Inspector Calls (perhaps Priestley's most famous play),
I Have Been Here Before and The Lonely Mirror all also have elements of time twisting around itself.
Time follows its usual course in The Rose and Crown, but the supernatural intrudes. The play begins in typical Priestley style - disparate characters are introduced and for a time it seems that there is no plot, merely conversation which rambles from one point to another. The plumber cannot get hold of two-inch lead pipes, the warehouse assistant has headaches, the alcoholic pensioner has lost two husbands and three sons and the only connection between her and the other drinkers appears to be that they are all in the same pub. It is only when a stranger enters that it becomes clear what they have in common.
The Director's Cut
The production gradually developed as the cast and director became more familiar with the play. One important change was opening up the action. As can be seen in the photo, the BBC presentation was very static, with the characters standing or sitting round the bar - an inevitability given the difficulty of moving early, heavy television cameras. But without movement, a play is in danger of becoming monotonous and for our first performances, on a proscenium (traditional) stage, several of the characters moved around, creating some dynamism and giving an extra dimension to their personalities. At the Fringe we were on a thrust stage, with an audience on three sides, which made movement even more important; yes, there were times when some characters presented the back of their heads to the audience, but there was always something for everyone to see.
The other element which deepened as we worked more with the play was comedy. Priestley is well-known for his wry comments on the human condition and his sympathy for his characters but he is not generally associated with humour. Yet the more we worked on The Rose and Crown , the clearer it became that there were comic elements that deserved to be highlighted. Lead pipes, rhubarb and tomatoes all play their part and there are non-verbal moments that raise a smile or a laugh.
These moments of comedy did not betray Priestley, nor distract from the serious points he makes. They were a means of drawing the audience into the play until the moment the Stranger appears and we are no longer in our comfort zone. The tone of the play darkens and although there are echoes of humour in the scene that follows, the predominant emotions are empathy and fear. By the final blackout, the play succeeds if not only remains true to Priestley's vision but reminds us that here is a minor masterpiece that should not be forgotten.
for an interview with the director about The Rose and Crown:
Rosy Dramaturgy: Martin Foreman @ Edfringe 2016
Founded in London in 2013, based in Edinburgh since 2014, Arbery Productions
is an occasional group of theatre creatives with a track record of successful productions.
Arbery Productions has signed up to the Protecting Actors Fringe Charter, helping to ensure all cast and crew involved operate under safe and fair working conditions.
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