Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Dangerous Corner

J B Priestley
New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme
(2008)

Production photo

John Boynton Priestley's name sounds like a throwback to days when an Englishman's home was his castle, a man had a job for life and class distinction played an enormously important role in society.

Dangerous Corner, Priestley's play about psychological intrigue and upper-class respectability, seems at first to be a 1930s period piece which has little relevance to today. Some of the language is a good illustration: at one point someone is accused of being a "rotten swine". But well before the end you'll have a totally different view.

Dangerous Corner documents the lives of seven people at a dinner party hosted by wealthy, successful couple Freda and Robert Caplan.

Freda's brother and her husband along with two employees of the family publishing firm and one of their novelists seem to be having a quaint conversation over brandy.

When someone raises the subject of Robert's brother Martin, who allegedly shot himself after £500 from the firm went missing, it soon becomes apparent that each guest apart from the novelist has a potentially devastating secret.

The title comes from the presumption that telling the whole truth is like going round a corner on two wheels. Once Priestley hits a high gear, the play takes on a Formula One pace as layer upon layer of deception is ripped away faster than Louis Hamilton sets lap records.

It doesn't really matter that you can't warm to any of the characters because each is stripped of his or her veneer of decency as the revelations continue.

There were even gasps of exasperation from the audience when the lights went down at the interval after another eye-popping disclosure left them wanting more.

There's a diverse range of characters who complement one another while the expositions crank up the tension.

James Rochfort shows a range of emotions as Robert who's always demanding the truth without realising the life-changing consequences which might follow. Lucinda Milward appears the perfect wife although her loyalties may lie in another direction.

Joseph Pitcher as Gordon Whitehouse is petulant and irksome because no one else appreciates the emotional problems he's going through while Amy Brown as his wife Betty seems to be quite dotty until she reveals an unexpected side to her character. They both have a childlike streak and occasionally resort to a shouting match.

Jason Haigh plays Charles Stanton, a director of the publishing firm, as an amoral extravagant who doesn't care too much about what others think of him because he knows they too have something to hide.

Perhaps the best performance comes from Nia Gwynne who as employee Olwen Peel is able to show concern, compassion, shock, grief and sorrow as she unravels the mysterious goings-on which affect everyone.

Katharine Barker completes the cast as novelist Miss Mockridge who leaves the stage before the plot starts to unravel.

Dangerous Corner kept me on the edge of my seat throughout - but sometimes for the wrong reasons. Six of the actors hadn't worked in the Staffordshire theatre-in-the-round before. Nor had director Joanna Read. On occasions I had to strain to hear what some of the cast were saying when they weren't facing me.

On the whole, though, this is a vibrant, gripping production with a real edge to it.

"Dangerous Corner" continues until October 18th

Reviewer: Steve Orme