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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition