Night Must Fall

Emlyn Williams
Tabs Productions and Theatre Royal Nottingham
Theatre Royal, Nottingham

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David Osmond (Dan) and Karen Henson (Mrs Bramson)
Juliette Strobel (Dora Parkoe), Sarah Wynne Kordas (Olivia Grayne), Susan Earnshaw (Mrs Terence) and Andrew Ryan (Hubert Laurie)
Jeremy Lloyd Thomas (Inspector Belsize), Andrew Ryan (Hubert Laurie) and Karen Henson (Mrs Bramson)

One of the benefits of seeing more than one play in a rep season is watching how actors adapt to a totally different role from one week to the next. The final production in the Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season 2022, Emlyn Williams’s Night Must Fall, is a typical example.

During the second week’s offering, Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web, David Osmond played Henry Hailsham-Brown, a stuffy Foreign Office diplomat who was frightfully posh and behaved according to his lofty position. In Night Must Fall, there could hardly be more of a contrast.

Osmond reprises the role of Dan which he undertook in the Thriller Season in 2015. Dan is the unscrupulous, handsome man who meets Dora Parkoe, a maid to bitter, curmudgeonly Mrs Bramson. Dan gets Dora pregnant on their first date and subsequently charms his way into Mrs Bramson’s home as her personal assistant.

Osmond gives a stunningly good portrayal of Dan, transforming from a happy-go-lucky, smooth-talking Welshman into a psychopath. There is always an element of suspicion about him which is evident as he employs flattery, deceit and pure anger in a bid to get what he wants.

In Spider’s Web, Andrew Ryan played startled justice of the peace Hugo Birch. In Night Must Fall, he dons a wig and moustache to become “unmitigated bore” Hubert Laurie, an “all-round sort of chap” who is too dull for his intended wife, Mrs Bramson’s niece Olivia. It’s a role Ryan also undertook in 2015.

The third transformation features Juliette Strobel, a petulant, spoilt child in Spider’s Web and common but sensitive Dora who is quickly jettisoned by Dan in Night Must Fall.

The play is set in 1935 in Essex in the bungalow of Mrs Bramson who uses a wheelchair. Night Must Fall is a bit creaky nowadays, with Hubert remarking that Olivia says “some jolly rum things” and his strongest exclamation of surprise is “by George!”

But with four of the cast settling into the roles they had in 2015, the production is memorable for its tension and sheer entertainment.

Karen Henson revels as cantankerous Mrs Bramson, easily taken in by Dan and hysterical when she is left alone in her home. Sarah Wynne Kordas excels as the perceptive Olivia, trapped in her surroundings and too desperate for excitement for her own good.

Susan Earnshaw never disappoints and stands out as Mrs Terence, getting the funniest lines as the cook who has no reservations about expressing her feelings at the abominable way she thinks she has been treated by her employer.

Jeremy Lloyd Thomas completes the cast as Inspector Belsize, who displays the confidence of a man who you know will ensure that justice will prevail.

John Goodrum directs with a deftness that comes from knowing exactly what his actors are capable of. He brings out the humour in Williams’s script as well as cranking up the tension. And plaudits must go to sound designer David Gilbrook whose music adds a doomy touch.

The good news, revealed at the end by Karen Henson, is that the Thriller Season will be back in 2023 and will revert to its previous format of four plays in four weeks. Summer just wouldn’t be the same without it.

Reviewer: Steve Orme