The Rose and Crown
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
Seventy years later . . .
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, who enters their lives and makes an unusual and unwelcome request.
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)
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.
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 above 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.
Arbery Productions is pleased to bring it to the stage for a week during the Edinburgh Fringe 2016 - and by happy coincidence, our last night (27th August) was the 70th anniversary of the play's first performance on the BBC.
That night we celebrated with a small glass of port (for the significance of that drink you will have to see the play).
The Director's Cut
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 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.
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 do not betray Priestley, nor distract from the serious points he makes. They are 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
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)
below: The Stranger (Oliver Trotter)
Edinburgh-based cast for Fringe 2018
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Playscript of the new adaptation
of the classic comedy, with
Mosca and Corbaccia now women
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