“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive”. Sir Walter Scott’s famous line could so easily be the subtitle for J.B Priestley’s first play, Dangerous Corner.
First performed in 1932, Priestley takes a carefully constructed look at how one seemingly innocent throw away line can unearth a hornetss nest of lies, deceits and hidden passions. Now revived by the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, it still holds its own and shows – despite being his first work – that Priestley had already mastered the genre.
In their elegant drawing room, Robert and Freda Caplan are entertaining Robert’s business partners and their respective wives along with crime novelist Miss Mockridge.
As a radio play ends and the cigarettes are passed round, the musical cigarette box prompts a chance remark from one of the guests. This innocuous utterance spreads and soon we find that, far from being happy, there is a whole world of repressed passion and resentment lurking beneath the surface.
Being a thriller it would be wrong to go into any further detail. Suffice to say that the twists come thick and fast; the obligatory ‘who done it’ moment is served well and the final twist will catch many by surprise.
Director Colin Blumenau has assembled a strong cast – fresh from last month’s Much Ado About Nothing – who have created well-rounded portrayals of what turns out to be a group of thoroughly unlikeable people.
Suzanne Ahmet as Olwen, the unsuspecting trigger for the evening’s events, perhaps comes across as the most sympathetic character of the evening. Desperately in love, it’s a performance of subtle intensity. Polly Lister’s hostess Freda is more of a fiery provocateur, happily encouraging the fireworks until they land too close to home, while Ellie Kirk’s Betty may initially seem the innocent party but, beneath her demur exterior, she too hides a darker secret.
The gentlemen behave little better. James Wallace’s Robert is a bully who wont let go until he gets the answer he wants, however uncomfortable. Nicholas Tizzard plays the villain well, with a cold detached air, while Ben Deery’s Gordon is superbly conceived, a tormented soul who deep down knows he has to live a lie to cover his true love. Observing this orgy of self destruction, Lynn Whitehead’s Miss Mockridge must think Christmas has come early with enough source material for her novels to last a lifetime.
The whole production looks ravishing. Libby Watson’s set and costumes give the piece a wonderfully simple but elegant period feel. Emma Chapman’s lighting design does add atmosphere but would benefit in a couple of moments of being more subtle rather than overtly dramatic.
Dangerous Corner may now be nearly 80 years old but the intrigue, drama and human dilemmas portrayed could easily feature in any TV drama today.
It’s worth the trip around any corner – dangerous or not – to catch this staging of a classic.
Photo: Polly Lister, Ellie Kirk and Suzanne Ahmet in Dangerous Corner. Photo by Keith Mindham