By J. B. Priestley.
Stage adaptation by Duncan Gates.
3 Stars ***
The Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington, to 7 January.
Tues – Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
No performances 12, 19, 24 & 25 December & 2 January.
Additional matinees 27, 29, 30 December & 3, 4, 5, 6 January at 2.30pm
Runs 1 hr 15 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 412 4307.
Review: William Russell 8 December
Things go creak in the night in an old dark house
Anything by J.B. Priestley is worth a look. He was one of the giants of the British theatre for many years. This started off as a novel published in 1927 and was made into a film, The Old Dark House, in 1932 directed by James Whale with a cast headed by Charles Laughton, Raymond Massie and Boris Karloff and Melvyn Douglas regarded as a classic camp comedy. It is the one about the couple whose car breaks down in a storm miles from anywhere who take refuge in a nearby mansion inhabited by peculiar people and including a homicidal butler and a maniac locked in the attic, a genre sent up so memorably in The Rocky Horror Show.
Duncan Gates’ staging of the material is serviceable enough, and director Stephen Writson tries to whip up the necessary energy from a very hard working cast but this is a soufflé which has trouble rising and some of the ingredients have dated rather badly. Every now and then something one associates with Priestley surfaces – the dangerous shell shocked Great War soldier locked in the attic, the wealthy mill owner with a social conscience. But it could be by anybody, and as the film’s script was written by R.C. Sherriff and Benn Levy just what they added to Priestley is anybody’s guess but in cinematic terms they very probably improved things.
As for this version, a lot depends on what Gates used as his source material – novel or film. The result is that those who go seeking relatively unknown Priestley, which this is, are in for a mild disappointment. One suspects he would have come up with a better play. But anybody seeking a harmless farce performed at breakneck speed is in for an amusing treat.
Harrie Hayes and Jessica Bay are charming damsels in distress, the one a bossy wife and the other a young musical comedy actress on an illicit trip with a rich elderly admirer, Matt Maltby is energetic as the suitably dishy daft love interest, and Tom Machell, Michael Sadler and Ross Forder with two roles apiece ring the character and costume changes with great aplomb. There is also a really terrific soundtrack all thunder claps and tolling bells to raise the tension, and a cleverly constructed set for them all to rush round fleeing danger.
Margaret Waverton: Harrie Hayes.
Philip Waverton/Saul Femm: Tom Machell.
Roger Penderel: Matt Maltby.
Morgan/Horace Femm: Michael Sadler.
Gladys Du Cane: Jessica Bay.
William Porterhouse/Rebecca Femm: Ross Forder.
Director: Stephen Whitson.
Set & Costume Design: Gregor Donnelly.
Lighting Design: Zia Bergin-Holly.
Sound Design: David Gregor.
Movement Director: Grace McKee.
Fight Director: Ste Clough.