A Touch of Danger
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
This is an awkward time for theatregoers. Most venues are dark during the summer and the only alternative in many towns and cities is a dose of open-air Shakespeare - which is not to everyone's taste.
Nottingham came up with an answer sixteen years ago: the Classic Thriller Season. Colin McIntyre takes a selection of actors to the Theatre Royal and over four weeks they perform four plays in the same way an old-style repertory company would.
This year they're producing offerings by Agatha Christie, Francis Durbridge, Peter Whalley and Tudor Gates. Judging by the number of people who were at Wednesday's performance, the formula is working just as well if not better than it's always done. You don't need to be a detective to understand why.
The action of A Touch of Danger takes place in the living room of author Max Telligan's apartment in London's Sloane Square. His wife and secretary read in the evening newspaper about his death only for him to appear as though nothing had happened. Max is soon caught up in a highly dangerous situation and it's debatable whether he's trusting the right people.
The play is well written, unexpected developments are never too far away and, naturally enough in a thriller, there are characters who aren't what they appear to be. Terrorists and discreet government officials turn up in unlikely situations - but you don't need a degree in criminology to unravel the intrigue and everything is resolved in a credible way.
The actors perform competently and there is just about the right amount of pace, although Durbridge's script is occasionally too wordy and flabby. Director Patric Kearns has set the play in the 1970s and that could have led to the production becoming a huge send-up. Thankfully he resisted the temptation.
Many of the cast return to Nottingham year after year for the Classic Thriller Season and their experience of the genre shines through. This is the eighth consecutive year that Nicholas Briggs (Max) has spent the summer at the Theatre Royal and he's the archetypical member of the company, a seasoned professional who looks forward to this four-week run because it's an enjoyable diversion to what he does throughout the rest of the year.
Briggs is ideal for the role of the multi-faceted Max as he is able to change quickly from being mysterious, frightened or baffled to tender, appreciative and even tetchy when dealing with his ex-wife.
Bruce Green is comfortable as the enigmatic, upper-class Digby, the man from the Ministry who disposes of bodies with as much levity as he would household rubbish.
Jane Shakespeare deserves credit as Max's level-headed secretary Liz Ferber and Hannah Smith is well cast as Harriet Telligan, although at times she slightly overdoes the histrionics in her endeavour to convince the audience that she also has a secret side.
Add an ear-splitting gunshot, a slow-motion fight and a denouement which few people could have guessed and you have all the ingredients for a classic thriller. The play and the performance are unlikely to win any awards but this an enjoyable way to spend a hot summer's evening without it being too intellectually taxing.
"Dead of Night" by Peter Whalley runs from August 11th to 16th and "Who Killed Agatha Christie?" by Tudor Gates runs from August 18th to 23rd.
Reviewer: Steve Orme