eden end title

Eden End by J.B. Priestley
(summary by Meg Howard)

(Spoiler Alert)

Set in 1912, Eden End slowly exposes the cracks in the lives of a provincial British family. The play, by celebrated writer J.B. Priestley, takes a poignant look back at an Edwardian age of innocence before the First World War, and explores the secret heartache and disappointment of unfulfilled ambition.

In late October 1912 the family of Dr. Kirby, a widower in northern England, is disturbed by the unexpected return of Stella, who left home eight years earlier to pursue a career on the stage.  Her brother Wilfred and sister Lilian have been arguing over whether Stella was right to leave.  Since Wilfred is employed in Nigeria, Lilian complains that she feels obliged to stay at Eden End in order to keep her father company. Then Stella arrives.
Seemingly delighted to be home, Stella eagerly questions Wilfred and Lilian about what has happened to friends and family in her absence. Later, however, she confides in her old nurse, Sarah, that her career amounts to very little. Her emotions are further stirred when Dr. Kirby tells Stella how much he admires her for pursuing a career, in contrast to his own decision to stay in northern England for his late wife’s sake. He confides to her his belief that he has not long to live.

Lilian notices the mark of a wedding ring on Stella’s left hand, and Stella reveals that she married a fellow actor, Charles Appleby, from whom she is now separated. Not long afterwards, Geoffrey Farrant, an eligible bachelor arrives at the house and sees Stella. Their former attraction is revived, much to Lilian’s dismay.

Jealous of Stella's easy relationship with Geoffrey, Lilian invites Charles to Eden End. Not only does he interrupt Stella’s reunion with Geoffrey, but he leaves Geoffrey stunned to realize that Stella has concealed her marriage from him.

Stella confronts Lilian, who tries to justify her actions by revealing her  anger over Stella's "selfishness", which, she claims, led to their mother's premature death.

When Charles and Wilfred go out drinking one night, Stella is annoyed that Charles is leading her brother astray; but Lilian resumes their argument from the day before.  Later Stella is again upset when her father, unaware of her lack of professional success, declares his admiration for her pluck.

Realizing that she no longer fits in her former home, Stella announces her departure, and she and Charles leave on the Sunday train.

Cast of Characters

Dr Kirby – William Chubb
Stella Kirby, the actress – Charlotte Emmerson
Wilfred Kirby, her younger brother – Nick Hendrix
Lilian Kirby, her younger sister – Daisy Douglas
Sarah, an old servant – Carol Macready
Geoffrey Farrant, a handsome bachelor – Jonathan Firth
Charles Appleby, Stella’s husband – Daniel Betts
Although the play touches powerful chords, it doesn’t always resonate strongly – it’s too quaint, perhaps, for that. Adding a music-hall prelude to Act 3 (a glorious round of I Want to Be a Military Man from
Florodora), as well as giving the sitting-room action its own Edwardian stage surrounds, Sansom seems torn between making the most of the period trappings and declaring a wish that it was more

About the performances he elicits from his cast, though, I have no complaints. There’s beautifully shaded work here from old and young alike: Carol Macready as the no-nonsense housekeeper at one end, Nick
Hendrix as the sweetly artless Wilfred at the other, and from those in the awkward in-between years, too, most obviously Charlotte Emmerson’s Stella, anguish rising and falling through her like air through a
squeeze-box, and Daisy Douglas as her sister Lilian, prim, forbidding but equally, inwardly adrift. Recommended.

The Telegraph  8 June 2011

production pic
Farrant, played by Jonathan Firth, is also a winning creation. What could easily be just another stock Edwardian stiff-upper-lip chappy with a gammy leg, becomes a real person who overcomes the reservations of the era to tell Stella how he feels. Overflowing with decency, his sense of correctness and his openness are very genuinely acted and I enjoyed his performance very much. There’s an excellent moment when he encounters Charles Appleby. His reactions are simple, but perfectly executed.

Review – Eden End, Royal, Northampton, 16th June 2011
The Real Chrisparkle (Blog)

William Chubb is the redoubtable country GP, Doctor Kirby, with a philosophical strength and Jonathan Firth a gallant country farmer, Geoffrey Farrant, charged with emotional conflict.

thestage.co.uk review

The play exposes the strains in relationships in the Kirby family in the northern village of Eden End, exploring themes of sibling rivalry, unrequited love, father daughter relationships, marriage and family dynamics....

The action takes place in one room of the family home which helps to ratchet up the tension between the characters.

There’s humour, simmering resentment and first rate performances from the whole cast, plus a story that lured me in immediately and an ending which made me cry.

It’s also a piece of theatre which makes you question the characters’ actions and motivations, leaving you discussing the play all the way home.

Not to be missed.

The Sussex Express 28 June 2011

Set in 1912, this is a slight but well-constructed story of a prodigal daughter's brief return to the home of her country doctor father, her hopes of stage success crushed by lack of talent (something Charlotte Emmerson, who plays her, lacks not). English Touring Theatre's production adds a mix of expressionism, melodrama and music hall to spice up JB Priestley's drawing-room drama (already old-fashioned when it opened in 1934). The action is relocated to a stage within a stage; Act II is interrupted by a cliff-hanger; and a song and dance routine inserted in to Act III. All this grabs the attention but what keeps it fixed are the actors, who skilfully develop cipher characters into touchingly muddled human beings.

Review - The Observer  9 June 201

Written in 1934 as Europe hurtled towards war, but set in 1912 before the start of another devastating conflict, JB Priestley's drama is English minor-key Chekhov. It gently interrogates the elusive search for happiness, the hash we so often make of our lives, and the way history laughs at us. Dr Kirby's touching, deluded faith that the world will soon be a better place recalls the doctor Astrov in Uncle Vanya.

In a less vivid production than Laurie Sansom's, almost every character might have come across as a bit whiny, but Sansom introduces an intriguing meditation on the dangerous allure of illusion into what is otherwise a naturalistic, slightly plodding family drama. Sara Perks's nifty design offers a theatre within a theatre within a theatre, and nods towards the Wordsworthian stars Stella loves so much and the lamps that will soon go out all over Europe. Not a sizzler, then, but at moments quietly affecting.

Guardian UK 8 June 2011

Priestley’s dialogue is firmly set in the era but nevertheless sparkles, still sounding fresh and relevant today under the assured direction of Laurie Sansom. The underlying humour in Priestley’s words, including his deliberate use of irony as the family look forward to a better future in two or three years’ time, innocently unaware of the cataclysmic events to come, comes through well [snip].

Sara Perks’ set mixes traditional and modern elements. Most of the action takes place on a raked platform that recreates the Edwardian drawing room accurately. The rear wall, however, is formed of vertical strips against a black background and looks incongruous. This is, nevertheless, used effectively alongside Anna Watson’s ingenious lighting design to show Lilian’s feelings of isolation and despair poignantly on a shadow screen as she retreats to her room with a convenient headache while the rest of the household celebrate Stella’s return.

This was an enjoyable evening’s entertainment from English Touring Theatre and can be recommended. On one level, it is a light piece of comic drama, but on another, it connects with the feelings many of us have of the possibilities of the path not taken and a lingering, slightly uncomfortable impression that the grass is always greener on the other side.

The Public Reviews 8 June 2011

Rehearsal pics  photos by  Alex Soulsby 2011

rehearsal pic 1


Theatre Royal Brighton
Tue 28 Jun – Sat 2 Jul
Tickets: 0844 8717650

Richmond Theatre
Tue 5 – Sat 9 Jul
Tickets: 0844 8717651

Oxford Playhouse
Tue 12 – Sat 16 Jul
Tickets: 01865 305305
Cambridge Arts Theatre
Tue 19 – Sat 23 Jul
Tickets: 01223 503333

One stop information for the Richmond Theatre run of Eden End

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