The Glass Cage, Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton

4.00

A taut drama of family fortunes

Not all theatrical rarities are worth unearthing. This one resoundingly is. The Glass Cage is a play by JB Priestley that has not been performed since its one and only London run in a production that hailed from Toronto 50 years ago.

Following the kind of slump that hits artists in the immediate aftermath of their death, the Bradford-born sage's stock took a sharp upward turn with Stephen Daldry's expressionist and emphatically socialist take on An Inspector Calls, which was an international hit in the 1990s.

The notion of Priestley as a much more various and experimental writer than is generally acknowledged was consolidated by the major retrospective masterminded by Jude Kelly at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2001.

One of the big successes of that season was a sleek, biting, contemporary slant on Dangerous Corner by Laurie Sansom. As artistic director of the beautiful Royal & Derngate Theatre in Northampton, he now makes a splendid job of breathing highly imaginative life into The Glass Cage, a piece that was given a tantalising rehearsed reading in Leeds.

It here receives a full staging that is scrupulously in-period and alert to social nuance (the Canadian accents are all spot-on), and yet, with its open-to-the-elements set, also keenly alive to the unsettling eeriness of the forces that blast apart the claustrophobic surface respectability of this upper-bourgeois Canadian home in 1906.

You don't expect to find a Priestley play located in Toronto, but while it may be a far cry from England geographically, in terms of theme The Glass Cage has certain strong affinities with An Inspector Calls. But instead of a police inspector who is genetically morally independent of the investigation that springs family skeletons from cupboards, the catalytic characters are connected by more than ties of blood to the well-heeled Edwardian hypocrites they are determined to rumble.

They are the three estranged young adults (two nephews and a niece), who are the fruit of their father's long relationship with a Native-Canadian woman. To the sounds of a ghostly wind, the trio parade like enigmatic conspirators into the upholstered household with its uptight piety, and its prayer-meetings, and its clan that consists of an aunt (Janice McKenzie) whose guilt has turned to on-edge hostility, her whimsically venal and vindictive brother (Robert Demeger), who ruined a man to gain a mistress, and the head of the household (John Arthur), a pious martinet whose genuine Christian instincts are warped by the duty of hushing up the sins of his siblings.

The family wants these mixed-race visitors to sign a deed of transfer, just as, years before, their father had been prevailed on (in dubious circumstances) to make a disadvantageous deal. The newcomers have had chequered, humanisingly hand-to-mouth careers and are soon turning the drawing room into a raucous saloon. The scene in which they seductively embroil their two upright cousins in a wild, drunken romp is played as a stamping danse macabre. That is in keeping with the increasingly double-edged nature of the drama.

The performances are wonderfully well-judged. A star-in-the-making, James Floyd brings a serrated edge of mocking, cockily comic challenge to the bibulous, impulsive younger nephew, while Dar Dash expertly radiates the strained containment of his older brother. As their sister whose jobs have included dodgy, customer-oriented theatricals, Rebecca Grant luminously communicates the drop-dead wit of this precocious young woman and registers the acumen that allows her to see that the deepest injury that the family has done them is not financial, but the instilling of a habit of hatred. That is the glass cage of the title and it's a prison from which self-transcendence is the only means of liberation.

Priestley's play hit the theatre at the time of the Angry Young Man explosion. Helped by a revival of this calibre, you can see how it yields to none of the works of the period in its trenchant subversiveness.



To 17 November (01604 624811)

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin