Image: Freda Caplan (Mercedes Yearley) and Robert Caplan (Geoff Dillon)
On the eve of the July-long Bromley Arts Festival, Theatre 62 in West Wickham put on a highly polished performance of J.B. Priestley’s play ‘Dangerous Corner’, in their 60th anniversary year. It was a first visit to the theatre for myself and my Bromley Buzz podcast co-presenter Zeenat Noorani, and once the curtains parted to start the show it was quickly striking how small the gap can be between amateur and professional theatre.
The box office was dinky, the seats lightweight, the air conditioning absent, but there the differences with bigger theatres largely ended. The essence of live entertainment is what happens on stage, and this was a highly entertaining, slick and apparently well-rehearsed show.
The play, performed on a single, well-dressed 1930’s-style set occupied by even better-dressed actors, centres on a group of close friends and business associates. They come together for an evening which unravels from the moment that they can’t tune into dance music on a radiogram. Instead, they talk. Soon, they come to wish they hadn’t. The atmosphere becomes more and more tense as they tease truths, half-truths and revelations from each other.
The evening proceeds as half Spanish Inquisition, half game of truth and consequences, and one joy of the night is that each actor, even Betty Whitehouse (Christabel Wickert), who edges out with an incipient headache at one point, has their time in the spotlight of growing scandal. An exception is Miss Mockridge (Jane Sheraton), whose cameo appearances as a scandal-seeking Downton Abbey Dowager Duchess type figure are briefer, but still amusing. Much of the night concerns an absent friend, Martin, beautifully described as “as cruel as a cat”, and, absent or not, he still manages to drive the plot.
In what amounts to a detective-less investigation, Robert Caplan (Geoff Dillon), Freda Caplan (Mercedes Yeardley), Gordon Whitehouse (Stuart Scott), Betty Whitehouse (Christabel Wickert), Olwen Peel (Rebecca East), Charles Stanton (Andy Masters) pick and probe and poke at each other, gaining insights into hidden loves and motivations dark and light alike. What is revealed is a searching examination of what we are as human beings in our relations with those closest to us.
The quality of set, costume (especially Betty’s elegant dress), and atmosphere in this intimate theatre were excellent, and the acting was to match, with Charles perhaps having some of the very best lines, and his actor Andy Masters made the most of the opportunity to play what was something of a Jeckyll and Hyde character. Though he was not alone in this in a cast seemingly without weaknesses. The direction (by Patricia Melluish) kept the pace tight and, for that matter, the male characters as they wolfed down glass after glass of strong spirits appeared just as tight, developing a convincing ‘wobble’ in the second act, as Zeenat pointed out.
That was the only wobble on view on view in this night of proper entertainment.
Dangerous Corner runs until 2nd July, and is followed by God Of Carnage, 15th to 20th October.
Darren Weale, 30th June 2022