The Case of the Frightened Lady at Leeds Grand Theatre

The Case of the Frightened Lady is the latest offering from Bill Kenwright’s Classic Thriller Theatre Company and is in the same vein as last year’s A Judgment in Stone……..

……..That is to say that the ‘thrill’ had been completely removed from the term ‘thriller’.  To be fair, this was a vast improvement on last year’s model, but that is not saying a great deal.

The cast is one of those ensembles which seem to be designed to get the audience thinking ‘Isn’t that them off that TV programme, you know the one, hang on a minute though, it might be the one who made that record which got into the top twenty in 1958.’  The range was pretty comprehensive, from Elsie Tanner’s son, Dennis, from the first ever episode of Coronation Street in 1960, to a Harry Potter stalwart.

The play was written in 1931 and set in 1932! This was the year that Edgar Wallace died. The sole set is the entrance hall to Marks Priory, seat of the Lebanon family and under the matriarchal control of Lady Lebanon, played by Deborah Grant. Her son has just returned from the army in India bearing a terrible secret, as do Lady Lebanon, Dr Amersham, the family physician, Mrs Tilling, the maid, Studd, the chauffeur, in fact everyone except the two policemen who are called to investigate the murder of the aforementioned Studd, who seemed to have been living up to his name with Mrs Tilling. Hey, if they are not going to take the play seriously I might as well have a bit of fun with it too.

The whole evening is spent watching people appear from, disappear through or simply lurk in the various passageways leading to the hall. The leading detective gives himself a quick promotion in the first ten minutes by upgrading from Superintendent Tanner to Chief Superintendent Tanner on introducing himself to the various suspects i.e. everybody. I think that he should have busted himself back down to constable though as his idea of interrogation was a casual conversation with whomsoever happened to be passing through the hall at the time. Any attempt to pin the characters down for a proper interview came to nought. The young Sergeant Totti appeared to have the best idea by skulking in one of the passages, whilst two of the characters gave the game away in a discussion between themselves. A second murder took place and the plot thickened, like lumpy custard. The use of comedy in a thriller can add to the tension and be exceedingly effective. The sad thing here was that there was no tension to add to.

Photographs provided by Leeds Grand Theatre.

The acting was either wooden or bordering on farce with two liveried servants who had been told by Lady Lebanon to find out what was going on, strolling through the hall whilst conversations were taking place, or hiding in the shadows eavesdropping. Tilling, the gamekeeper, was given the obligatory West Country bumpkin accent as per Chapter 5, section 3 of the Stereotype Manual. The only thrills of the night occurred by way of sudden claps of thunder and a gunshot, which snapped the audience out of their torpor. Mentioning the audience, I believe that they are the best judge of a play and all I heard were laughs and sniggers rather than gasps and self-congratulatory hmmms as the perpetrator was revealed. The denouement came via a series of quickly spoken explanations from several of the characters delivered in a way which made one think that they wanted to get everything cleared up before the pubs shut.  I was with them on that one.

I am sure that the play was staged with the best of intentions but I would have expected more from Bill Kenwright and Roy Marsden, the director who should know how to construct a murder mystery, having played Inspector Dalgleish for 14 years on TV. I really hope that, should there be another play from the Kenwright stable next year, it is treated seriously and will not be an evening of light-hearted froth which is neither thriller nor comedy.

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