Writer: J. B. Priestley
Director: Karen Henson
Reviewer: David Robinson
Due to some essential refurbishment work at the Nottingham Theatre Royal, the regular Colin McIntyre summer thriller season moves down the road and around a corner or two and arrives promptly for a run at the Playhouse. Dangerous Corner was JB Priestley’s first attempt at writing a full-length play although he had previously collaborated successfully on The Good Companions. He was, it seems, eager to prove that a novelist could also write effectively using the economies that are demanded for a stage dramatisation. The play was first staged in 1932 and although it now creaks and complains a touch as it takes the sharp corners it still manages with little pretention to stay true to the Priestley themes that he would regularly return to throughout his career. What is central to Dangerous Corner is to be repeated in many of his most successful scripts, a cosy family setting that becomes beset by surfacing secrets and lies and, of course, with the regular addition of Priestley’s consistent fascination for changing time periods.
The economies he strives for: a small cast, simple set and a story that unfolds steadily, are all achieved with ease. Robert and Freda Caplan are entertaining guests for dinner after which a casual comment fuels a series of devastating results as the precarious corner is turned sharply and the sleeping dog is rudely awoken. The revelations concern the earlier apparent suicide of Robert’s brother Martin which, it appears, influences and affects the gathered group to varying degrees, heated and circuitous discussions ensue that take us right round the corner and way beyond. Karen Henson’s direction is efficient and brisk, it feels like a scattering of judicious cuts here and there were decided upon including settling on two acts rather than stretching it over three as originally written. Sarah Kordas’ set design is shimmeringly simple and is marked out at intervals by Michael Donoghue’s subtle lighting. The wigs somewhat awkwardly worn by the female characters are an unfortunate and somewhat obvious choice.
Priestley’s simple preferences leave the cast with just a trifling amount of action but a considerable and meaty load of dialogue. This, with the exception of a couple of slips, they deliver commendably. Jo Castleton as Olwyn is particularly captivating and copes admirably with the significant mood swings. Mark Huckett finely discovers some humour as Charles and is equally proficient with his brooding reflections. The short second act sees the blind bends and turns coming thick and fast and the tension rises with equal speed. It is here the cast are at times left behind in the slow lane choosing an ill-advised melodramatic route which prompts some unfortunate sniggers from the audience.
Priestley remains relevant and popular if a little ponderous and cumbersome: the thrills are gentle and certainly not too dangerous.
Runs until 22 July 2017 | Image: John Langford