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NODA Review - Dangerous Corner - November 2018

‘Dangerous Corner’ is a fantastic little play by J.B. Priestley and this production of it provided a packed house with a wonderful evening’s entertainment. It’s the first play Priestley wrote and provides the first sighting of ideas which tinker cleverly with time and perception, themes which would become a staple of his repertoire in later works such as ‘Time and the Conways’, ‘I Have Been Here Before’ and of course, ‘An Inspector Calls’. Quietly subverting the conventions of the drawing room drama of the 1930s, Priestley stirs in crime, secrets, lies, mystery, passion, scandal and a gay relationship (daring for a play written in 1932 and which was exorcised from the script when it was filmed in Hollywood) before pulling the drawing room rug from under the feet of the audience in the clever final act. 

 
The wonders routinely performed by Hoghton Players with their productions in the round seem always to be chosen thoughtfully - and directed skilfully - to draw the audience in to the heart of the drama and this was another perfect choice. Priestley himself thought little of the play and thought it rather a ‘beginners piece’: the author’s own introductory note in my battered 1947 Pan paperback copy of his ‘Three Time Plays’ includes the rather dismissive statement that “...I doubt I would walk half a mile to see the finest production in the world of ‘Dangerous Corner’.” I think he would have been pleasantly surprised had he seen this very enjoyable version of his play and I for one was cheered to see the performers polish this period piece up to give it a perfect shine. 
 
We find ourselves in the home of the Caplans as the ladies are listening to the end of a radio play (the title of which - ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’ - is worth remembering for what comes later!) and waiting for the men to join them after dinner. 
 
Jacqueline Green was every inch the 1930s lady of the house Freda Caplan, definitely one of the smarter set; Aimee Wright just right as ‘bright young thing’ Betty; Rana Shihadah was perfect as the mysterious Olwyn and Jenny Ashcroft was the picture of a 1930s lady novelist, Miss Mockridge. Arranged artfully around the Caplan’s drawing room, the scene is set for the investigation of whodunnit, whodunwhat, when and to whom as the evening’s drama unfolds. It doesn’t take long for the gentlemen to arrive on the scene and were also well represented with a trio of fine performances: 
 
Charles Stanton was given the right amount of sardonic charm as played by Alex Holt; excitable young Gordon (there’s always one in plays of this sort) was played with a good deal of fizzing youthful vigour by Jack Denwood and the upright and determined Robert Caplan was played with a controlled strength by another young performer, Jordan Leigh.
 
With the cast being made up of a mixture of familiar faces and newcomers to the society, the balance on stage was just right and the performers knitted together very well to create an excellent ensemble. The arena for the evening was very well kitted out in the requisite period ‘look’ and costumes were all very well suited to the era in question too. Furniture, hairstyles and props have to be right: when playing in the round - a matter of inches from a curious audience on all sides - these matters assume even more importance than would be the case on a distant proscenium stage and once again, the gang at Hoghton scored highly.
 
II have to say I wasn’t altogether sure about Gordon’s splendid pair of mutton chop whiskers though - perhaps not entirely suited to the character or the period - but Jack wore them well and carried them off with aplomb! The play concerns itself with unearthing the truth and exploring the chain of events which tie all the characters together in a complicated web of deceits and deceptions. At the end of the play however, we are left to consider whether the truth isn’t better left undisturbed in favour of a more amicable ignorance. The production explored theses ideas with charm and grace and the characterisations across the board were first class, fully in keeping with the feel of the piece.
 
All too often, period pieces such as this are treated with a sort of campy glee and we’re invited to snigger along with the rather arch nature of it all: as an Agatha Christie fan, I’m always reminded of the stark contrast between the fairly recent ITV adaptations of the Miss Marple stories (all comedy turns, jolly music and a sneering tone which suggests tongue in cheek daftness) and the peerless Poirot productions. The tone here was well judged and is a testament to the directing team and, given the fact that the performers were up close to the audience at all times, a feather in their caps too. The catalyst for the dilemma at the heart of the drama comes in the shape of a musical cigarette box which had belonged to the show’s unseen ‘eminence grise’ Martin, with whom each of our merry band of dinner party guests have had intimate doings at one time or another. As the tangled web of deceits is plucked at strand by strand, each new revelation at first illuminates the past and then casts a new shadow, leading to further secrets being uncovered.
 
Jordan Leigh did a superb job of surging on to find the truth as the determined Robert Caplan, looking every inch the upright matinée idol of the Odeons. I thought his habit of looking forthright while pointing at the floor might wear on me eventually but actually, this tic only added to the look and feel of the period charm of the characterisation.
 
Jacqueline Green floated majestically through proceedings as Freda, successfully radiating a tightly controlled emotional power.
 
Jack Denwood excelled at portraying confused youthful passions and
 
Alex Holt as Charles Stanton carried his rather more ‘devil may care’ shortcomings in a much lighter way than the rest of the ensemble, which was just right.
 
Rana Shihadah oozed angst and heated passion as the brooding Olwyn and
 
Aimee Wright was exactly as flouncy, flighty and playful as Betty needed to be. At the play’s final twist, all the performers successfully reverted to their earlier selves and the audience was left with an intriguing final thought to take away into the night.
 
I must say that from a technical point of view, I wasn’t terribly convinced with the final gunshot/scream initially but as it did tie in with events at the beginning of the play, I shouldn’t grumble and all was forgiven in any case when the play reached its final few pages and everything was wrapped up nicely.
 
In productions of this sort, I also miss the fact that the characters aren’t forever dipping into a cigarette box and puffing their way through one Players Navy Cut after another but then the current cultural climate has unfortunately seen to that! This was a thoughtful, involving, entertaining and well mounted production of a worthwhile and interesting drama with plenty to say: a finer way to spend a Sunday evening, I couldn’t imagine.
 
Congratulations to all at Hoghton Players for another production of quality and finesse and for the warm welcome afforded to myself and my guest (NODA’s next National President no less!) Please keep up the good work and continue to provide artistic inspiration in District 3. 
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