SIDMOUTH – SIDMOUTH SUMMER PLAY FESTIVAL & TOUR
MANOR PAVILION THEATRE
2 hours 10 minutes – 1 interval
Manor Pavilion Theatre Box Office – 01395 514413
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 11 JULY 2019
There is a very good reason why J.B. Priestley remains popular today – and studied by students and academics alike – he is a very good writer. ‘An Inspector Calls’ is a masterpiece of construction, and the gradual exposure of secrets which have a devastating effect on the characters, is simply brilliant. Some years before writing that play, his first venture as a playwright was ‘Dangerous Corner’ in 1932 – a likewise tightly constructed and character-revealing work.
As friends gather for a convivial evening, discussion over a certain cigarette box leads to the opening of a Pandora’s Box, as secrets are exposed and relationships torn apart. Duplicity, theft, murder, suicide, drug abuse, homosexuality, infidelity, pornography and corruption – yes, all are covered in a play which is extraordinary in so many ways. And then we have the twist at the end…..more of that later.
As the fourth play in the Sidmouth Summer Play Festival we are solidly in pre-WW2 England, in a smart drawing room at the home of Robert Caplan, a publisher; his guests being other partners in the firm and other friends. The excellent set designed by Andrew Beckett is impressive and offers a great backdrop for the ‘beautiful people’ of the play to unload their innermost secrets in front of. The attention to detail to the props and costumes are all to be admired in the production – the staging is a triumph.
This is really a play to get your teeth into as an actor and all the parts have something to offer. As Caplan, Jonathan Scholey’s performance is very idiosyncratic – edgy, jokey, not appearing to be serious – until the end. Sally Lofthouse is just excellent as Caplan’s wife; strong of character on the surface but wounded beneath – you can feel the simmering tension in her from the start, waiting for it to boil over. Chris Casey is spot-on as the rather arrogant, but flawed Charles Stanton – you are never sure what to think of him as he gradually reveals one choice morsel after another. Sabi Perez is equally good as the vulnerable friend Olwen whose remark about the said box, lights the blue touchpaper. It is not easy to work out the nature of the part of Miss Mockridge, an author invited to the party – she sits and observes – but when she speaks, the words have more than one meaning – is she the conscience of the group? Whoever she is, Tracy-Anne Liles provides a rather wonderful sinister, enigmatic cameo performance. As with all the characters there is more to them than meets the eye and Charlotte Haines’ Betty is no exception – an incredibly well-judged performance. Owen Landon is a young actor to look out for in the future – as Betty’s husband, Gordon, he is constantly on the edge and prone to outbursts. This is an outstanding performance – one second, at ease, the next overflowing into extreme anger – watching his silent grief at the start of the second Act as discussion over his lover’s suicide take place is a masterpiece of off-camera acting.
A brilliant ensemble cast.
Priestley was known for what are called his ‘Time Plays’ – a number of his works which played about with the concept of time. At the end of ‘Dangerous Corner’ we see his first attempt at this and it is brilliant! I will say no more.
The crafting of a play like this is quite exquisite – layers upon layers are built up and then bit by bit are torn away. The host of issues covered is extraordinary – truly Priestley was ahead of his time. No one has ever written this way since.
With a firm grip on the material and the production, Stuart Burrows directs with insight and restraint. It would be so easy to over-direct – this is a wordy, play and the temptation might be to continually move the cast around the stage to keep the audience engaged – but no, it is done when necessary only. The flash points in the play when verbal and physical conflict are to the fore are like explosions – they give you a jolt and a shock – perfectly handled. This is direction of the highest order.
J.B. Priestley was an extraordinary talent and this is a production to match it. If you are willing to work a little, as an audience member you will be well rewarded.
A classy production, performed and directed with precision and exceptional skill.
FREDA CAPLAN – SALLY LOFTHOUSE
MISS MOCKRIDGE – TRACEY-ANNE LILES
BETTY WHITEHOUSE – CHARLOTTE HAINES
OLWEN PEEL – SABI PEREZ
CHARLES STANTON – CHRIS CASEY
GORDON WHITEHOUSE – OWEN LANDON
ROBERT CAPLAN – JONATHAN SCHOLEY
WRITTER – J.B. PRIESTLEY
DIRECTOR – STUART BURRROWS
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – STAGE TECHNICAL SERVICES LTD.
COTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
SEASON PRODUCERS – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS, STUART BURROWS, JONNY CLINES