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I Have Been Here Before

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Rare revival for this JB Priestley supernatural mystery

'I Have Been Here Before' is certainly one of JB Priestley’s lesser-known plays, a time-bending story of déjà-vu, socio-economic interconnectedness and existential dread set in a remote Yorkshire pub on Whitsuntide. Rather than ‘An Inspector Calls’, it’s kind of ‘A Creepy German Doctor Calls’. Janet and Walter Ormond are the wealthy, dissatisfied couple whose arrival at the pub is foretold by the ominous second-sight of the cadaverous Dr Gortler: visions of misery and destruction that may be rushing inevitably towards them.

Priestley is an endlessly fascinating writer. His plays throw memorable, painfully human characters into situations so boldly imaginative and intricate that they remain breathtaking even 80 years on. ‘I Have Been Here Before’ plays out as a delicate if unconventional story of marital discord and unexpected passions, folded inside a fiercely smart upending of our conventional notion of time. Influenced by the work of Russian mathematician PD Ouspensky, Priestley’s play considers the possibility of time as an endlessly repeating chain, running in one long spiralling track like the groove on a record.

Director Anthony Briggs deserves considerable credit for unearthing the play, but unfortunately the same can’t be said of his production, which is badly lacking in both polish and pacing. Playing out more like a mid-rehearsal run-through than a finished piece, its dropped and fluffed lines, baggy cue-bite and lackadaisical stagecraft leave the promising cast floundering. David Schaal wins through in his portrayal of the choleric and alcoholic Walter, but with its momentum further hamstrung by two intervals, Priestley’s provoking ‘time play’ becomes an exercise in clock-watching for all the wrong reasons.

Written by
Stewart Pringle

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£22, £18 concs
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