In the Corner – Genesian Theatre’s Dangerous Corner
Dangerous Corner (1932) was J. B. Priestley’s first performed play, set in the home of Freda and Robert Caplan who are partners in a publishing firm. The play opens in the middle of a dinner party they are hosting for the benefit of the other partners. During the course of the evening an innocent comment is made about a cigarette box. This single comment leads to the unraveling of an intrigue which eventually reveals the truth of how Roberts’ brother Martin (another partner of the firm) came to commit suicide.
This is a drawing-room ‘whodunit’ murder mystery in the same tradition of Agatha Christie (except the action never leaves the room and every event of interest has already happened). Every character holds a secret and every character is in love with someone they aren’t supposed to be. In this sense, it’s a bit depressing. No one ends up happy. Or do they? At the heart of this play lies the question of truth v. illusion. At the play’s opening, all of the characters appear happy, at least superficially; they are all living an illusion. Yet, as the truth slowly comes out this happiness disintegrates until they are left at odds with each other – and their business apparently in tatters. However, this isn’t called the first of Priestley’s ‘time-plays’ for no reason: at the end an alternative conclusion is offered and in doing so it raises the question: what’s better, the truth or the lie?
In the program director Peter Lavelle makes reference to the play being a metaphor for the decline of the British Empire. Anyone seeing this show probably shouldn’t read too deeply into this as it isn’t overtly apparent in the text, nor in the performances. Lavelle seems however to be making a point about money, or economics. Central to the story is a matter of a stolen 500 pounds. The question of who took it and for what purpose, acts as the catalyst for the story. And, hanging over the scene at all times is an image of King George V, on a coin – a visual image of the source of their woes.
Living room dramas are often difficult for actors. This is because the plot is largely focussed on single-room discussions and relies heavily on character tension and explosive dialogue. In this production, the right intensity was not always delivered. Subsequently, some ‘action’ was stilted. Tom Massey as Robert Caplan suffered most here. Whilst he demonstrated moments of thoughtful clarity, the character’s complex moral stance means that he is required to process a lot of ideas, whilst balancing the fast pace style and modulating tones. This, at times, proved a little overwhelming for Massey. This too seemed to be the case for Amy Fisher as Betty Whitehouse. Whilst she was aesthetically pleasing and consistent in her characterisation, she was sometimes over-zealous with her acting choices and could have benefited from relaxing further into the role.
Kirsty Jordan as Maud Mockridge was quite watchable in this smaller role. She handled the chatty, gossipy author well, and made the most of her scenes. Elizabeth MacGregor as Olwen Peel also managed her character with dignity and poise. Amongst the actresses, Elinor Portch as Freda Caplin was a stand out. Portch was particularly comfortable in the world of the play and produced a well observed performance. John Willis-Richards as Gordon Whitehouse was given the difficult job of balancing the life of a closeted gay, whilst socially conforming to his marriage of convenience with Betty. Generally, he did this well. Although some of his mannerism may have come off as a caricature, for the most part they served the purpose of the role. Amongst the actors, John Grinston as Charles Trevor Stanton appeared completely at ease. Grinston arguably produced the most nuanced performance of the show, using a litany of subtle looks, gestures and modulation which added greatly to the force of his character.
To the entire cast’s credit, they were beautifully skilled in the voice department. It was a pleasure to listen to all seven of them, never lacking in volume and an overwhelming majority used their vocal range to their advantage.
The Genesian Theatre knows how to cater to their target audience, and as Lavelle’s states, period dramas are a favorite. As such they are fully equipped to present a nice Edwardian (well almost Edwardian, [he’d been dead since 1910, but who’s counting?]) set. The costumes hark back to that period as does the furniture. On the whole the stage dressings sat nicely with the material being presented. However, it should be mentioned that Elizabeth MacGregor’s (Olwen Peel) dress featured a completely open back – not exactly in keeping with the standards of modesty at the time.
Although at times this production risks becoming dull from a lack of energy and command on stage there is still enjoyment to be found. Priestley possessed a dry wit which was greatly welcomed. It mustn’t be forgotten that this is community theatre, and as such it is an admirable production making for a pleasant, though maybe not riveting, evening of theatre.
Dangerous Corner is playing at The Genesian Theatre until the 10th of August (only on Firdays, Saturdays and Sundays). For more information and bookings see: http://www.genesiantheatre.com.au/