Dangerous Corner

Thursday, 15 November, 2001
Review by: 
Darren Dalglish

The West Yorkshire Playhouse production of J B Priestley’s thriller, “Dangerous Corner” at the Garrick Theatre ” is a disappointing affair.

This brand new production of the 1930’s play has been updated to the modern day, but this does not work for me, particularly as there is a fur coat in the show which gives it an ‘old fashioned’ feeling, even though the rest of the cast are attired in modern dress. But this is only a minor gripe. The biggest problem is the cast! This company simply fail to gel.

The story is set in a stylish country retreat after a dinner party involving a group of close friends. When one of the group makes a comment about recognising a cigarette music box that belonged to Martin, one of their friends who committed suicide a year ago, this sets up a series of revelations that build into tense and enlightening truths that are to change all their lives.

Priestly has written a stupendous thriller that intelligently unravels truth after truth in an interconnected way towards a staggering climax at the end of act one. And although the tension and surprise peters out after the interval there is a thought provoking ending!

I saw a brilliant production of this play at the Whitehall Theatre in 1995. Unfortunately, this production fails to impress because the cast are not believable. They are supposed to be a group of close friends, but there is no warmth between them. They come across more as a group of work colleagues having a company party rather than a gathering of close and intimate buddies. This results in the impact of the revelations lacking emotion and dramatic punch. One is not able to feel the full force and bitterness of each betrayal as it is revealed, and therefore cannot understand the climatic end or feel any great empathy for the demise of Martin's younger brother ‘Robert Clapton'. But never mind, it is still a clever play that reveals how a simple and mundane response to one event can make a big difference to ones life.

Priestly cleverly puts a character under the spotlight as the others point the finger of accusation, however the fingers soon stop pointing as the spotlight steadily moves from one character to the next until the frailties of all the characters have been unmercifully exposed. Priestly is a very clever and cynical observer of human character. His plays reveal how the veneer of civility amongst friends and family is very delicate and the most innocent of comments can cause it all to unravel.

Jacqueline Pearce, as a dominating publisher, is the only actor that stood out and produced a solid and convincing performance. Unfortunately, she is not on stage very long. The rest of the cast fail to impress, possibly because of miss-match casting?

The production has received mixed notices from the popular press… IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, “This Dangerous Corner is as attractive as the cast and offers stylish entertainment if you like precision plotting and Agatha Christie-style interrogation.” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRTAPH says, “Dangerous Corner is manipulative, cliché-ridden and punishingly boring.” MICHEAL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, “The play still proves surprisingly seaworthy, largely because it uses a thriller format to explore the ever-pertinent question of how much truth we can take in our private lives.” JONATHAN MYERSON for THE INDEPENDENT says, “It was a corking evening, breathlessly forward-moving and only occasionally garnering laughs for improbably melodramatic turn-arounds.” NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “The volley of confessions occupy most of the playing time and incite disbelief, particularly when delivered in the production’s melodramatic style.” JOHN PETER for THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "A modern-day version of this play breathes new life into JB Priestly's script."

Not one of the best productions of Priestley’s “thriller of sex, secrets and lies”, but still a play worth seeing, especially if you have not seen a production of the play before.


Links to full reviews from newspapers...

Daily Telegraph
The Guardian
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The Times
Sunday Times

Next review by Tom Keatinge
Dec 2001

For J.B. Priestley, there must be something lucky about the Garrick Theatre on Charing Cross Road. Having staged his An Inspector Calls for several years, the theatre now greets a tremendous new production of Dangerous Corner. Even more so than An Inspector Calls before it, Dangerous Corner deserves to run for a very long time in the West End. Laurie Sansom’s updated version of the play is truly a triumph, demonstrating, if evidence were really needed, that West End theatre continues to be of the very highest quality.

Set in the country home of Freda and Robert Caplan, the action takes place at a dinner party gathering of friends, most of whom work for the same publishing company, owned by Freda’s father. The evening follows the familiar banter associated with such occasions – seemingly happily married couples trying to pair off singletons, sharing of gossip – all quite trivial. Yet the presence of the inquisitive American visitor Maud Mockridge turns the conversation towards an examination of the past, of the recent death of Robert Caplan’s brother Martin. His death was determined by the coroner to have been a tragic case of suicide brought about by the humiliation of having been revealed as a thief of money from his own father. This is a finding that no one has sought to question – until now. And so the relationships between husband and wife, brother and sister, friend and admirer proceed to unravel and destruct as revelation leads to revelation, from which no one is exempt.

And why has all this come about? The central theme of the play is that our relationships are built not around real truth, but around lies, lies that are told not with malicious intent, quite the contrary, lies that are told to avoid confrontation, that are told in order to ensure the comfortable status quo is maintained. To say more would be to reveal too much of what is a brilliant piece of theatre that keeps the audience intently absorbed for two and a half hours.

It is not just the writing and direction of Dangerous Corner that mesmerises. Rarely is one treated to such tremendous performances from across an entire cast. To single out any particular performances is not to detract from the strength of the entire ensemble, however mention must be made of Patrick Robinson as the calculating Charles Stanton, who sees the fine equilibrium that he has created shattered by the evening’s soul searching. Also, special note must be made of West End debutante Katie Foster-Barnes as the apparently cherubic and innocent Betty Whitehouse, a part that she plays with all the confidence and conviction of a seasoned professional. Finally, it would be wrong not to congratulate Dervla Kirwan who gives a powerful and first class performance as the tormented Olwen Peel whose slip it is that triggers the entire collapse of the group’s cosy circle. And what if she had not done so, what if she had not triggered the discussion… the final scene of the play shows us, the audience, how lucky we were that she did, but how easily she might never have unleashed such tragic destruction.

Everything about Dangerous Corner is perfect – you are going to have to wait a long time to experience such a fantastic combination of plot, acting, design and direction as is currently playing at the Garrick Theatre.

Tom Keatinge

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