Tag Archives: Theatre

The Inspector’s Russian Journey

Seventy years ago, in September 1945, a great English play had its world premiere.  J.B. Priestley and his wife Jane travelled to the USSR to see An Inspector Calls staged in Leningrad and Moscow.  Since its rapturous Russian reception, and a rather cooler (“almost hostile”) one in London the following year, the play has been seen, enjoyed, and studied by thousands worldwide.

Priestley, JB Russian journey

Front cover of Russian Journey, a pamphlet by J.B. Priestley

It uses the device of a mysterious inspector to explore how each member of a prosperous family contributed to the fate of a young girl who has killed herself.  Inspector combines Priestley’s fascination with the nature of time and reality with a powerful moral message.   While many aspects of the play are ambiguous and open to interpretation, its message could not be clearer – and remains highly relevant: “We don’t live alone.  We are members of one body.  We are responsible for each other.  And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish”.

So why the USSR?  No theatre was available in London, and Priestley’s work was popular in the country.  He was at the peak of his fame, so it would be something of a coup to host his new play.  Not to mention that Inspector would be seen favourably, as it can be interpreted as an expose of capitalism.

PRI21_8_30. Russian Album. Priestley and Jane greeted at Moscow aerodrome, 1945

Priestley and Jane greeted at Moscow aerodrome, 1945 (PRI 21/8/30)

Visiting Britain’s ally so soon after the end of the Second World War was an extraordinary experience for the Priestleys; fortunately both wrote about it.  They found a warm welcome and wonderful cultural life, but also extreme poverty, repression, and squalor.  This weekend’s Guardian Review featured a lively account of their Russian Journey, written by Valerie Grove and based on the vivid letters Jane wrote to her children.  You can find out more about the fascinating poster and photograph album featured in the article (and shown here) in our 100 Objects exhibition.

PRI21_8_30. Russian Album. Priestley's birthday with members of the Kamerny Theatre, 1945

Priestley’s birthday with members of the Kamerny Theatre, 1945 (PRI 21/8/30)

If this has tantalised you, you can see two interpretations of Inspector in the next few months:

  • A new tour of the 1992 production by Stephen Daldry, which led to a great revival in the popularity of the play.  Touring from 5 September 2015.
  • A new BBC Drama, filmed in Saltaire and featuring David Thewlis as the Inspector, will be broadcast on Sunday 13 September 2015.  A DVD will be available from the 21 September.

If you don’t know the play, now is the time to catch up and see what all the fuss is about!

Credits: quotations from An Inspector Calls and Margin Released.

Brontes, Bollywood and JB: welcome to the Lit Fest!

Did you know Bradford has its own Literature Festival?  Over a hundred events celebrating the written and spoken word, from 15 to 24 May 2015, in a host of venues around the city.

The Festival has a distinctively Bradfordian flavour:

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Bradford Reflections, by Tim Green – licence CC BY 2.0

  • Venture into the Undercliffe necropolis – at twilight …
  • Rediscover famous Bradfordians Humbert Wolfe and William Rothenstein and the city’s forgotten Jewish heritage
  • Explore the incredible textiles of India and the riches of Urdu poetry
  • Find out how Bollywood films portray male (often shirtless) beauty and style

Not to mention colleagues from Peace Studies at the University sharing their fascinating research: Dr Munro Price on Napoleon‘s downfall and Professor Paul Rogers discussing the rise of ISIS.

For venues, prices, tickets etc and many more events, check out the full programme on the Festival website.

Unique chance to see! Johnson over Jordan, 12 October 2014

The J.B. Priestley Society and National Media Museum present Johnson over Jordan. 12 October 2014, Bradford.

In the experimental play Johnson over Jordan (1939), J.B. Priestley explored the meaning of life – and death.  Everyman Robert Johnson leads an ordinary family life, until he dies and is thrown into bewildering, terrifying, and, ultimately, moving afterlife experiences.  This event offers the first opportunity to see the TV adaptation of the play since its original “Thursday Theatre” broadcast on BBC2 in 1965.  The adaptation features a stellar cast, including Ralph Richardson, who created the part onstage, as Johnson.

A must-see for all Priestley fans and anyone with an interest in theatre, television or philosophy.  You can book tickets via the National Media Museum website.

 

 

Arts and Issues: new exhibition in Gallery II Nov 2013-Jan 2014

Cohesion, Challenge and Critique

The “Arts and Issues” fellows at Bradford University, 1966-1982

14 November 2013-16 January 2014

A new exhibition in Gallery II at the University of Bradford brings together as never before the unique resources of special collections and the permanent art collection.  Arts Curator Amy Charlesworth, with help from Special Collections, explores the growth and significance of the most fascinating and distinctive facets of the University’s story: the Arts and Issues programme.

Tom Nash, maquette, circa. 1969, University of Bradford permanent art collection

Tom Nash, maquette, circa. 1969, University of Bradford permanent art collection

The programme encourages students to look beyond the subjects of their studies, links the University to local communities, and enriches the life of the University through visual and other artforms; the exhibition considers the early years of the programme to examine how and whether these aims are achieved.

For further information, see the Gallery II website.

Phyllis Bentley, Thomas Hardy, Sunlight Soap … new in the Society Journal

There’s plenty of good stuff in the latest issue of the J.B. Priestley Society Journal (October 2012, volume 13)

Blue plaque for J.B. Priestley at 34 Mannheim Road, Bradford.

Blue plaque for J.B. Priestley at 34 Mannheim Road, Bradford. The family didn’t move from there straight to Saltburn Place as has traditionally been thought …

  • JC Eastwood on Priestley’s family homes in Bradford – clearing up a mystery!
  • Professor Maggie Gale of Manchester University on Priestley as a “man of the theatre” – the text of her 2012 Society lecture.
  • Priestley’s bibliographer Alan Day on JB’s links with novelist Phyllis Bentley and their opinions of each other’s writings.  Alan Day also looks at a series of “short uplift articles” Priestley wrote for Lever Brothers in 1940 as part of a promotion for Sunlight Soap.  Fascinating parallels to the Postscripts!
  • Trevor Johnson writes about Priestley and Thomas Hardy, in particular the former’s use of Hardy’s poem in the Postscript about the Isle of Wight Volunteers of 16 June 1940.
  • Philip Scowcroft surveys music in Priestley’s writings.

There is also a reprint of a Priestley rarity, “The Soul of Revue”, originally published in 1925 and hitherto unknown.

The Journal isn’t available online*, but is sent in print form to all members of the Society and is available in libraries, including ours of course.

*yet, watch this space!

Priestley the Experimenter

The revival of J.B. Priestley’s play Cornelius at the Finborough in London has drawn fantastic reviews.  This one in particular from Michael Billington in the Guardian is interesting, because it draws attention to a quality of Priestley’s dramatic work which is rarely recognised.

Front cover of Cornelius play by J.B. PriestleyPriestley is often seen as nostalgic and cosy, creating well-crafted but outdated plays about Yorkshire in 1912.  Certainly his plays were incredibly well put together and, yes, he was always drawn to the world of his childhood.  However, as Billington observes, Priestley was also a “restless experimenter” when it came to drama.  He enjoyed the challenge of taking the artform in new directions.

Witness Johnson over Jordan, which traces the journey of a Yorkshire everyman through the Tibetan bardo limbo state, complete with a disturbing Expressionist interlude and a circle of time which restores Johnson’s lost childhood things.  The play ends with Johnson walking away from the stage – into what?

Or Dragon’s Mouth, a platform play in which Jung’s ideas take human form and argue about the meaning of life.  Or They came to a City: nine different characters find themselves outside the walls of a strange city – a kind of Utopia – which tests and transforms them …

Even his more seemingly conventional plays dissect comfortable hypocrisies (When We  Are Married) or explore mysteries of time and meaning (The Linden Tree).

There is a real revival of interest in Priestley’s less well known plays, as directors and actors explore his critiques of society and unfettered capitalism.  Special Collections has copies of them all, of course.  If you’re interested in seeing these works on stage, a great way to keep in touch with developments is to join the J.B. Priestley Society, whose members are enthusiastic about seeing and sharing information about Priestley’s plays.

Coming soon: Maggie Gale on Priestley and the Theatre

Several of J.B. Priestley’s plays, notably An Inspector Calls and the other Time Plays, continue to enthrall and educate modern audiences.  But Priestley’s role in the theatre went far beyond writing for the stage.

Professor Maggie Gale will be exploring Priestley’s place in the theory and practice of mid-twentieth century drama in the J.B. Priestley Society Annual Lecture for 2012.  This will take place on Saturday 10 March 2012 at 2pm in the JSB Lecture Theatre, Richmond Building, University of Bradford.  The event is open to the public.  For more information and to book, see the Society’s website.  Society members have their AGM in the same venue that morning.

Jung, Juvenilia, Theatre and Time: the latest Society Journal

As ever, the latest edition of the J.B. Priestley Society Journal offers new light on many facets of Priestley.

  • Tom Priestley reflects on family history as shown in the 1901 and 1911 censuses.  What was JB’s grandfather’s occupation?
  • Useful reprint of Norah Fienburgh’s 1932 Bradford Pioneer piece on Priestley’s 1913 Round the Hearth series.
  • Priestley turned again and again to the ideas of Jung: both believed in the power of dreams as a creative force: Lee Hanson’s lecture on the relationship between the two usefully summarises Priestley’s explorations of Jung’s often difficult ideas and covers how J.B. and Jacquetta Hawkes used them in Dragon’s Mouth.
  • Alan Day covers the February 1948 British Theatre conference, chaired by Priestley.  Fascinating controversies on the role of theatre managers and insight into the theatre of the time.
  • Rangarao Kulkarni discusses consciousness and time in five of Priestley’s later fictions: The Magicians, Saturn over the Water, The Thirty-first of June, Lost Empires and It’s an Old Country.

The Journal isn’t available online, but is sent in print form to all members of the Society and is available in libraries, including ours of course.

“Words, Magnificent Words, Wonderful Words”: Priestley on Shakespeare

A new insight into the world of the 17th century and the stories behind Shakespeare’s plays:  Shakespeare in 100 Objects, created by the Collections Team at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  Find out more about nightcaps, chamber pots, solstice dishes and a monk’s head spoon, with expert commentary from many Shakespeare scholars.

These objects have the richness and humanity that J.B. Priestley found in Shakespeare’s works.  Again and again he returned to Shakespeare in his books, his essays, his journalism.  Priestley revelled in Shakespeare’s stunning use of language, his humour, his tolerance …  Shakespeare (in Priestley’s view of him) had all the qualities he most admired in literature and culture:

“In his desire to keep a balance, his wrestling with the opposites … despite his immensely rich nature (and rich is surely his favourite word) and many-sided genius, he comes close to generations of ordinary Western men of intelligence and goodwill” (Literature and Western Man, 1960, from which the title quote also comes).

Priestley is particularly interesting when he discusses Shakespeare as a fellow  dramatist.  The chapter on Elizabethan literature in Literature and Western Man discussed the practical realities of the stage of the day, ending with “But with so many plays to find, put into rehearsal, and then perform, the work, worry and strain must have been wearing; we should not be surprised that Shakespeare retired, probably worn out, before he was fifty”.  Priestley spoke from experience:  his memoir, Margin Released (1962), includes a vivid chapter on the difficulties and craziness of theatrical production.

There is much more to be said about Priestley and Shakespeare, a theme to which I hope to return.  It is rather fitting that JB’s home in later life was in “Shakespeare Country”: the beautifully-named Kissing Tree House in Warwickshire.

“Now, Herbert Soppitt!”

“When We are Married” may be  J.B. Priestley’s funniest and best-loved play. Maureen Lipman, Michele Dotrice, Roy Hudd, and other well-known actors are part of the cast for a new revival at the Garrick Theatre.

The play is set in the world of Priestley’s childhood in the West Riding before the First World War, a world of solid comfort and eccentric, larger than life characters, of stifling respectability: “wool business and town councillors and chapel deacons”.  On their joint silver wedding anniversary, three married couples are shocked to learn that their marriages were not in fact legal …

The history of the play includes an intriguing appearance by Priestley in the original production.  He stood in as the drunken photographer Ormonroyd when the actor Frank Pettingell was injured.

Press coverage of the new production includes:

The Daily Telegraph. Dominic Cavendish interviews Maureen Lipman and Tom Priestley (JB’s son) and Review.

The Guardian. Review by Michael Billington.

Daily Mail. Review.

Observer. Review.