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Here I am again, writing about London and thereabouts. But this ain't an opinion on London [that's already been written, and an update is surely due now...]. 'Tis an opinion on what I saw (or, to be more pedantic and accurate, on one of the many things I saw) on my last visit there. Now before I proceed, though, here's some background knowledge on me for those who haven't yet had the pleasure (ahem..). I consider myself a seriously deranged theatre buff, with delirious ambitions of playing to West End houses... Okay, back to earth: I do love to go to the theatre, especially given that in my country there's only one play running at any given time - and that's if you're lucky. So imagine setting me loose in a city where there's a whole district dedicated to professional theatre... My first port of call in London (well okay, after lunch) was to the Half Price Theatre Booth in Leicester Square, where albeit it being a Saturday I managed two tickets for the evening performance of J.B. Priestley's DANGEROUS CORNER. Billed as "A Thriller of Sex, Secrets and Lies", and based on my previous acquaintance with Priestley's literary alter ego, I was looking forward to an uncomplicated enjoyable if perhaps conventional evening out. And boy did I get what I'd bargained for, and then some. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, the highs being even higher than I'd anticipated and the lows not so low as I'd feared. For those of you who are familiar with Priestley's far more famous oeuvre, AN INSPECTOR CALLS (also running at the West End), the plot and themes will, to a certain extent, be familiar. Place seven characters in a confined but comfortable space (same number of characters in both plays, intriguingly), embed them in a mundane relaxed social occasion, give them a shared history, then set off a spark in the form of a casual comment and let the fires burn, bringing crashing down se
emingly-forgotten skeletons from the closets of the past. Robert and Frieda Caplan, a young upwardly-mobile professional couple, are having a dinner party at their trendy apartment. The guests are another couple and two singles, all six having known each other for years. The guest of honour is an American author, visiting the UK, who is published by the publishing house where a number of the other guests work. Absent but hovering in the six's minds is Martin Caplan, Robert's brother, who committed suicide a year earlier when it was becoming clear that he was somehow embroiled in a financial scandal. After dinner, with the American prodding them on and eagerly fishing for gossip snippets, an offer of cigarettes by the hostess and a casual comment by one of the guests that the cigarrette case had belonged to Martin sets off a series of suspicions and revelations. How did she know that Martin had it, if Frieda gave it to Martin the day he died? And why had Frieda never mentioned before that she had seen Martin that day? ... And so it goes on... This, in a nutshell, is the plot. Revealing more would be doing any future theatre-goers a disservice. So I'll abstain. Suffice it to say that the revelations pile up high, with each new twist taking the play into a more sinister dimension. The ending, finally, is pure Priestley - denouement followed by a sinister open-bracket, with no corresponding close-bracket to neatly tie up loose ends for the audience. We have to do the tying up ourselves... The structure of the play is of the classical type: clear beginning, insertion of mysterious element, climax at the end of Act One, reprieve at the onset of Act Two, followed immediately thereafter by a heightening of tension and fresh revelations, a "serious" if unavoidable ending, and finally the unexpected bit, the tail. So expect no avant-garde evolution of plot, no sudden lapses into the absurd. All is rational and linear. But that
is a given if one opts for a Priestley play. Indeed, directors and theatre companies are so tripping over each other vying to outdo their neighbour in terms of outlandishness and "originality", that a trip down memory lane to what theatre used to be like is not amiss at times. As in AN INSPECTOR CALLS, though, the play is treated imaginately and unconventionally by the director, Laurie Sansom in this case, who plays her trump card in the stage design. The action is transposed to the present day, in a very trendy and minimalist sitting room of a young "in" couple - a house which, to paraphrase the programme, "radiates contemporary chic". Unlike a number of Shakespearean transpositions, which at times seem to have been moved to the present-day merely for the shock effect, this transposition actually brings renewed vigour and topicality to a play that could otherwise have come across as quaint. The actors move around and make full use of the set, imbuing the performance with an uncanny degree of realism even for a West End performance. I was surprised at how non-dated Priestley's dialogue could be, so much so that in certain exchanges I had the atrocious (but unfounded) suspicion that some text had been "tweaked". Of course, the delicious character of the American woman, interpreted by Jacqueline Pearce, with her over-the-top americanisms and over-elaborate American drawl, acted as a perfect contrast to the other members of the cast. Each of the actors would deserve a special mention, as they all played their part impeccably and imaginately, without derailing their characters. The actors on the night I was at the theatre were: Dervla Kirwan, Jacqueline Pearce, Rupert Penry-Jones, Patrick Robinson, Steve John Shepherd, Anna Wilson-Jones and Katie Foster-Barnes. The brilliant set was designed by Jessica Curtis, with lighting by Chris Davey. The play is presently running at the Garrick Theatre
, Charing Cross Road, which is an intimate theatre ideal for this type of play. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) this is the same theatre where Priestley's other play, AN INSPECTOR CALLS, was staged for a number of years, before being moved to a different venue. Tickets are not too cheap (but then which tickets are cheap in London?), starting at £15 for the Upper Circle and maxing at £35 for the best Stall and Dress Circle seats. If you're in the Dress/Upper Circle, bear in mind that the theatre is small and circular, so seats at the side will have a somewhat restricted view (no matter what the ticket-person will tell you). If you happen to be in London and fancy a good old-fashioned solidly-constructed thriller with a tang of cool tossed in, grab a seat at the Garrick Theatre. And then let me know what you think of it.