Playwright J.B. Priestley was well known for his “time plays” – plays that explore the concept of time in unusual ways. I Have Been Here Before is one of these, a supernatural play with an entirely ordinary setting of rural Yorkshire. This 1937 play explores the concept of predestination and infinite time loops.
Doctor Görtler (Edward Halsted) is the mysterious guest who turns up at the inn belonging to Sam Shipley (Keith Parry) and his widowed daughter Sally Pratt (Vicky Binns). He’s cryptic and a little spooky, but his influence on the guests, including businessman Walter (David Schaal), his wife Janet (Alexandra Dowling) and schoolteacher Oliver Farrant (Daniel Souter), is profound: he is convinced that he knows what will happen to them, and he wants to try and change history if he can. For all the massive implications of the concept, the play is surprisingly intimate and domestic in tone and theme.
With a simple curved set, suggesting the circular nature of time, the play draws you in and encourages an otherworldly atmosphere which sits surprisingly well in down to earth Yorkshire. If I have a criticism, it is that the play involved too much “telling” rather than “showing” – too much clumsy explanation, so that it becomes apparent why I Have Been Here Before is not one of Priestley’s more frequently performed plays. It can be repetitive, and some of the characters are not as well-developed as they might be.
Nevertheless, Anthony Biggs’ production is of a truly high standard, with strong performances all round – no particular actor really stood out for me, as they all gave excellent performances. The ending, too, came as a genuine surprise to me – sentimental it might have been, but it left me with a certain confidence in human nature. Overall, this is a production that Priestley fans won’t want to miss.