A Dangerous Corner
J B Priestley
Clwyd Theatr Cymru
Dangerous Corner, set in a wealthy 1930s drawing room, the first play that J B Priestley wrote entirely himself, and one that he apparently did not regard that fondly, is currently touring as a Bill Kenwright production. However, despite this, it is probably one of the most performed plays of its period and continues to keep audiences intrigued as the secrets of the characters are gradually revealed.
The early 1930s, in which the play is set, is one of the most contrasting periods in modern British history. Life had never been better for some members of society due to improved technology and medical care among other factors.
However, many parts of Britain were suffering the full impact of the Depression, including Priestley’s native Bradford, and it’s difficult to ignore this context as we watch the unfolding events that reveal the unsavoury side of some of the most privileged members of 1930s society.
All is not as it seems in the rarefied atmosphere of upper-class dinner parties and uncomfortable subjects for the 1930s such as homosexuality, drug abuse, rape as well as murder ensure that A Dangerous Corner remains a valuable snapshot of social realism from the period.
The whole play hinges on a chance remark made about a music box during an after-dinner discussion which also features an exchange of views about whether honesty is always the best policy. Michael Praed, the deliciously amoral Charles Stanton, is firm in counselling against searching for the truth as the consequences that follow may not be what is expected. However, this does not prevent him from voraciously devouring the secrets of others as they shamefully emerge throughout the evening.
Other characters, notably Colin Buchanan’s staunchly moral Robert Caplan, are keener for the truth to be revealed, even it does mean that no one’s life will ever be the same again. Martin, the character who is to some extent central to the plot, is not even seen onstage, having apparently shot himself a year earlier.
However, each of the remaining characters still seems to have strong feelings for him in one way or another with Flinty Williams’s besotted Freda Caplan contrasting with Olwen Peel, impressively portrayed by Kim Thompson, who suffered an attempted rape by him.
The joy of A Dangerous Corner is the incremental way in which the characters, either deliberately, or inadvertently, reveal their secrets. Each layer of the plot is meticulously peeled away until we learn the full extent of the unrequited longing that each of the characters seems to have for another.
Matt Milne, clearly relishing swapping his duties downstairs in Downton Abbey for life amongst the upper classes, is superb as Gordon Whitehouse who was clearly in love with the deceased Martin. Lauren Drummond, the other half of his sham marriage, is resoundingly unapologetic for her loveless tryst with Stanton. Even Robert Caplan, who for so long had claimed the moral high ground, is eventually exposed as having a secret obsession.
The climax of the play cleverly uses the Priestley ‘time-slip’ technique to illustrate the importance of one chance remark in revealing all the dark secrets and how different things could be if it is never said. This is a timeless and well portrayed piece of theatre that kept the audience spellbound throughout.
Reviewer: Dave Jennings