Reviewed by Louise Watts
I, like many people, enjoy nothing more than a good “Who done it?” book or play. In the 1920’s one of the biggest crime thriller writers was Edgar Wallace. He is believed to be the first British crime novelist to use policemen in his stories rather than amateur sleuths. Many of his novels have been made into films and plays and yesterday evening I visited The Hawth theatre in Crawley to see the opening night of the stage adaptation of his story “The Case of the Frightened Lady”.
I was very much looking forward to this and had high expectations from the outset as it had a star-studded cast. It had been a long time since I had been to see a show with so many well-known names and faces.
The show was set in the 1930’s in the ancestral home of the Lebanon family. It opens with a fancy-dress party taking place hosted by Lady Lebanon (Rula Lenska) and with many comings and goings you are quickly introduced to the bulk of the cast. The set is a spectacular hallway in Mark’s Priory and is a busy through way to the rest of the house and if I am honest although it worked perfectly as a set, I began to feel a little dizzy with the constant movement of people!
When Lord Lebanon’s chauffer, Mr. Studd, is murdered at the party, speculation starts to run rife about who the murderer is. Could it be the family doctor with a few secrets Dr. Amersham played by Denis Lill, famous for many things including being Rodney’s father in law in Only Fools and Horses. He is certainly an odd character and what you see is certainly not what you get with this medic. Denis played him brilliantly as you would expect, and you ended up quite liking the man even though all your instincts said you shouldn’t. Or it could be Kelver the loyal butler who has dedicated the last few years to dutifully and respectfully serving the Lebanon family. This man is very honourable, but could there be a hidden motive? Kelver was played by Philip Lowrie best known for his role as Dennis Tanner in Coronation Street. Another incredible actor who gave an impressive performance.
But there are so many other suspects, it could be the beautiful Isla Crane (April Pearson), niece of Lady Lebanon who has been brought to Mark’s Priory to be coerced into marrying Lord Lebanon in order to provide a male heir to the estate. Neither her nor Lord Lebanon are particularly keen on the idea but her ladyship has other ideas. Is it Lord Lebanon himself played by Ben Nealon who put in an outstanding performance as the slightly eccentric Lord with a strange outlook on life? Is it Lady Lebanon played by the incredibly talented Rula Lenska who was so believable as her Ladyship? But then it could be one of the two other male servants Gilder (who is always listening to everything with intent) or Brook the rather odd servant. Is it Mrs. Tilling the maid or her jealous husband the game keeper… the options are endless.
What is clear is that it will take the skills of some exceptional policemen to solve this crime! And in enters the incredibly handsome and very skilled actor Gray O’Brien, best known for his part in Coronation Street as the evil Tony Gordon. He plays a much nicer character in his role as Chief Superintendent Tanner who has been sent by higher people to solve this murder. He had also suppressed his Scottish accent in order to play the part of the British copper. He is assisted by the Detective Sergeant Totti played by Charlie Clements, best known for his role as Bradley Branning In EastEnders. The pair worked superbly together, and it was lovely to see their acting skills in completely different roles to what I have seen before.
As the story unfolded, it became very clear that there were many secrets within the four walls of Mark’s Priory and all was not what it seemed. When the murderer is unveiled, I was pleasantly surprised. I had not seen the ending coming but it all made sense! I have no intention of telling you who it is, but it is a fantastic conclusion. This is probably the best murder mystery I have seen since The Mousetrap!
The Hawth was as always, a lovely venue with kind, helpful staff and ample parking. The only disappointment tonight was the lack of audience. I was extremely surprised with how empty the auditorium was and I hope it didn’t put the cast off because the lack of audience in no way reflected the quality of the show and performance. The show is on at The Hawth until Saturday 17th February 2018 and I would urge the people of Crawley and the surrounding areas to go and see it. I promise you will not be disappointed.
Tickets cost from £26 to £33.50 (booking fees may apply).
The Case of the Frightened Lady is at The Hawth in Crawley from 12-17 February 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit hawth.co.uk or call the box office on 01293 553636.
The Hawth, Hawth Avenue, Crawley, Sussex, RH10 6YZ | 01293 553636