Eden End: Review by Becky Carter

THE beginning of the twentieth century is portrayed as an innocent time in J B Priestly’s touching drama, Eden End at Ilkley Playhouse this week. Knowing what is to come on the heels of the year of the Titanic disaster and Scott’s failed expedition to the Antarctic, the whole piece is wrought with dramatic irony.

Opening with a glimpse of what will become the crux of the matter - a rather poor ‘end-of-the-pier’ act, we are swiftly transported from there to an Edwardian parlour. Into this scene come adult siblings Lillian and Wilfred sparring and sniping at each other in best brother/sister style.

Living at home with her widowed father, local GP Dr Kirby and Sarah, their grandmotherly housekeeper, Lillian has become a bitter spinster. She resents her perceived duty to her father and dreams of adventure and a life outside their respectable home. Wilfred, (Joseph Button), is on leave from West Africa – his work sounds exciting but he’s no high-flier and longs for nothing more than a girlfriend. An older sister, Stella, left the home to pursue a career on the stage eight years ago and hasn’t been heard from for three. This is not an especially happy household, but it functions well enough, with the holes left by their mother and Stella, papered over.

The unannounced return of the prodigal Stella ‘upskittles’ everything. Stella (Nikki Ford) and Lilian (Carol Butler) first greet each other warmly but almost immediately the years of resentment from the stay-at-home sister come to the fore. Carol Butler conveys beautifully the almost schizophrenic emotions of happiness at her return and resentment at the celebration of the one who caused so much anxiety. It quickly becomes evident too that all is not so glamorous in the world of the ‘great actress’ and she’s keeping another secret too.

This is a play of rivalries and resentments, of hopes and dreams for a new world which is going to be happier and easier than the austere Victorian age. All the time we carry the knowledge of what is to come which makes this a very poignant play indeed. Priestly has gathered characters who tell a wide range of stories. Neil Holt, as the ponderous doctor, demonstrates thoughtfully feelings for his life spent and opportunities missed, whilst Arthur Timmins, as the bluff and blustering Charles Appleby is the epitome of the foolish optimist. Both sisters want to stake a claim on the elegant but injured Geoffrey, played sensitively and with great charm by Robson Stroud. Perhaps it is Sarah to whom we warm most easily as she fusses and cares for the family which has become hers – Kay Vann has stepped into this role late in the rehearsal period and embodies perfectly the very core of familial affections.

Those new to Priestley as well as his fans will surely appreciate this thought-provoking piece of carefully crafted theatre. It runs until September 23.