By Edgar Wallace, adapted by Antony Lampard
Directed by Roy Marsden
Company: The Classic Thriller Company
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Thursday 8th February 2018
Perhaps I’m being a bit kind to this production, but I often find I lower my expectations for these old-fashioned plays: as long as the cast turn in a decent set of performances, the staging is suitably brisk and the set and costumes don’t let the cast down, then I’m prepared to enjoy myself. And that’s how it turned out tonight. The story managed a surprise or two, there were some good laughs, and the cast made the most of their fairly thin characters to provide us with an entertaining evening.
The setting was a baronial mansion, the family seat of the Lebanons, a family stretching back to the Conqueror’s day and with a staunch matriarch (Rula Lenska) holding it all together. Her husband having died, her son, the new Lord Lebanon (Ben Nealon), was back at home, missing his army posting in India and swaggering about the place with an aristocratic indifference that made me want to slap him about a bit. Mind you, I wasn’t the only one, with his Lordship coming in for a hefty blow to the head from one of the other characters! One of his cousins, Isla Crane (April Pearson), the frightened lady of the title, was also in residence, acting as secretary to her Ladyship, who was trying to marry the cousins to each other to perpetuate the family bloodline – nothing doing as far as both young people were concerned.
There was a reduced number of servants, this being after the war. First war, that is. The butler Kelver (Philip Lowrie) was suitably formal, although his initial appearance as a knight (in fancy dress) rather undercut his authority. Brook (Callum Coates) and Gilder (Glenn Carter) were another problem: both lurked about the place, listening in on just about everyone’s conversations, and apparently doing very little to justify their positions as footmen. But was that all they did? Her Ladyship was prone to giving them orders which suggested there was more to their job descriptions than that.
As well as Mrs Tilling (Rosie Thomson), the housekeeper/ladies’ maid/serving wench – the play couldn’t seem to make up its mind what she did in the household – and her husband (Owen Oldroyd), the gamekeeper, we met Studd (Joshua Wilchard), Lord Lebanon’s chauffeur. A handsome individual, he had spent some time in India, as had Dr Amersham (Denis Lill), her Ladyship’s doctor who was also attending the fancy dress ball in Indian costume. One of these would not survive the ball, but which one? And who had killed them? (Not to mention, why?)
The police presence consisted of Chief Superintendent Tanner (Gray O’Brien), sent down from Scotland Yard to ‘help’ the local bobbies due to the elevated status of the Lebanon family. His assistant was Detective Sergeant Totti (Charlie Clements), who gave Tanner someone to talk to about the investigation as well as developing an interest, reciprocated, in Isla Crane. (To have one character named Studd was unfortunate; to have another named Totti was surely avoidable.)
After the first death, there were several other ‘incidents’, and the final denouement was as Steve and I had discussed during the interval. The play closed with a grief-stricken Lady Lebanon in a spotlight while the rest of the surviving cast melted away. The sizeable audience gave them a warm reception, ourselves included, and went away happy, as it should be.
The set was meant to represent a part of the old mansion which had been roofed over. There was stonework everywhere: the walls were covered with heraldic shields, the floor was paved with flagstones, and columns and pillars flanked every archway. The furniture was sparse, consisting of a desk against the left wall, a seat front right and a table back right. Entrances were front left, back left, back right (a narrow corridor leading off to the rest of the living areas) and a doorway middle right to the kitchen and servants’ quarters. The costumes were fine, although I did find Mrs Tilling’s low-slung maid’s cap a bit odd-looking. The scenes were a bit choppy at times, but they kept things moving, and it was a respectable effort from this thriller company. All the cast did good work, but Rula Lenska as the domineering mother and Glenn Carter and Callum Coates as the creepy servants were just the strongest for me.
© 2018 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me