Produced by the tireless Bill Kenwright for ‘The Classic Thriller Theatre Company’, the Playhouse Weston brings another murder mystery to our town.
Set in 1932 (incidentally, the same year that the play’s writer, Edgar Wallace, died), The Case of the Frightened Lady feels like hundreds of years away from the edgy, provocative, bang-up-to-date shows you might catch at Theatre Tropicana just along the seafront: with its imperialism and blue blood, this production is a far cry from The Sex Workers’ Opera, say, or Trainspotting.
And that’s just fine: the number of bums on seats here proves that there’s room aplenty for it all. At 48 years of age, I am among the youngest in this audience but old enough to have clocked up my fair share of Whodunnits and I’m definitely a big fan of way too many (contemporary) crime TV programmes and books. I also like a good story, which Edgar Wallace proves to have been a dab hand at churning out and, throughout the play, I don’t miss a word of the somewhat staccato dialogue, determined not to lose the plot, literally.
Expect a rather unusual upstairs/downstairs scenario, with menacing and sometimes comical footmen (Glenn Carter’s Gilder being the most fluent and believable character), a secretary who has the chance to be a Lady and a housekeeper whose loveless marriage has her flirting and flirted with, not always to her liking. There is a suspicious doctor, a detective, tales of India and lives that entwine. Wallace’s story weaving keeps up the intrigue and, as with all good murder mysteries, we’re really not sure until the very end who among the rich and their servants has committed the fatal crime.
The entire play takes place in one room of the grand and uber-posh Marks Priory, seat of the Lebanon family – Julie Godfrey’s design opens up the stage, allowing plenty of room for the cast of 12 to enter and leave as dizzingly but cleanly as possible. If you watch soaps, you will recognise a few of the actors, particularly Gray O’Brien and Denis Lill of Corrie fame and Charlie Clements from EastEnders, while Rula Lenska has been around for at least the duration of my own memory.
What the Playhouse Weston does, it does very well and, after the offerings of all the other local theatres in Weston and Bristol, The Case of the Frightened Lady, for all its old-fashioned storyline and delivery, is surprisingly refreshing.
The Case of the Frightened Lady plays at the Playhouse Weston until 3rd February