The curtain opens to reveal an imposing baronial hall. It’s reassuringly solid and large. It also tells us we’re firmly in classic murder mystery territory, with the lady of the manor (Deborah Grant as Lady Lebanon) urging staff, guests and family members on to play their part in the running of a large party. This sees us swiftly introduced to most of the large cast and creates a genuine impression that there is a ‘rest of the house’ attached to the bit we can see.
The plot concerns Lady Lebanon’s attempts to see her son and heir (Matt Barber as Lord Lebanon)safely married-off to Isla Crane (played by Scarlett Archer). Meanwhile a possible love triangle involving the housekeeper, her husband the gamekeeper and his lordship’s chauffeur provides diversion and red herrings.
Before too long there is the inevitable (first)murder, which in turn introduces us to our leading man – John Partridge as Chief Superintendent Tanner (‘Sounds like he should be running a spa,’ quips Lady Lebanon) accompanied by Matt Lacey as his assistant, Detective Sergeant Totti. By this stage you’re wondering if these were regarded as perfectly normal names back in the 1930s or whether Edgar Wallace had his tongue firmly in his cheek. I suspect the latter because, particularly in the second act, there are delightfully bizarre moments as a running gag about two servants always suspected of listening in the wings (Angus Brown as Brook and Simon Desborough as Gilder) is increasingly played up.
That’s not to say this is a comedy. A cast of well known TV faces including Robert Duncan as Dr Amersham ensures that everything is played with conviction, each distinct character being believable in their own right. Rosie Thomson as housekeeper Mrs Tilling is particularly good.
There’s something inevitably a little pedestrian about these kind of plays, but that’s no reason to dismiss them. The Classic Thriller Theatre Company know how to handle the material. They don’t attempt to make it relevant to a modern audience or sensationalise the story. Instead, their approach is to provide a sumptuous set, a cast of well known faces and a few screams along the way.
The Case of the Frightened Lady is at The Orchard Theatre, Dartford until Saturday 10 December and then on tour for one more week at The Richmond Theatre.