The Case of the Frightened Lady (Theatre Royal, Windsor, until January 20th then touring)
Recently returned from a sojourn in Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland, where I was knitting ear muffs for polar bears and mittens for the Kalaallit and I got stranded after missing the 517 bus home, I was delighted to make a visit to Royal Windsor for a murderously mysterious murder mystery at the Theatre Royal, Windsor.
One of the most exciting experiences I have ever had in the theatre was when the lights went out in a production of Black Coffee. Imagine my excitement, then, when the Classic Thriller Theatre Company (who used to be called the Agatha Christie Theatre Company until the Queen of Crime rose from her grave to tell them she didn’t like having theatre companies named after her) found the start of the play delayed BECAUSE OF A FAULT WITH THE LIGHTS!
Restless audiences were not allowed into the auditorium and ended up going down to the riverside to feed swans until hailed back to the theatre so the play could begin some 10-15 minutes late. I was very worried that I would miss my last bus home as a result, but all was well as I was able to catch a train and change at Richmond. The new trains are really rather nice, though there was a funny smell that I put down to the newness of the carriages, and you can now see right the way from one end of the train to the other, which made me worried that roller-skating buskers might get on board and start performing songs from Starlight Express, but all was well, though Brian Blessed was on board and by a strange coincidence he played Old Deuteronomy in the original stage production of Cats, which is also by Andrew Lloyd Webber though none of the songs are the same.
In the Black Coffee incident at Eastbourne actor Robert Powell (best known for playing Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth on TV) had to step in front of the curtain while playing Poirot and announce that everyone had to clear off home because of the faulty lighting. What was especially exciting about this fresh event was that the play was starring Glenn Carter (best known for playing Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar!). I was half expecting them to send him out and apologise for the delay and burst into a chorus of Everything’s Alright! But he didn’t, which was in many ways a disappointment.
The latest offering from the Classic Thriller gang is Edgar Wallace’s The Case of the Frightened Lady, which was written a long time ago and set in 1932, which is the same year that Agatha Christie wrote Peril at End House, though I don’t think the two are linked in any way. This is a new adaptation by Antony Lampard, who has adapted a number of things for stage and TV, so I expect that is why he was asked to adapt this
The setting is the large, baronial hall of the ancestral home of the Lebanon family (I think it was called Marks and Spencer’s but I inadvertently crunched a pear drop at just the wrong time and must have missed it). The set didn’t change once, which was a good thing because the hall is where everything took place and it would have been confusing otherwise. I found it rather strange that from time to time people left the hall to have conversations which were then reported, so I don’t know why things didn’t happen in the hall in the first place, but perhaps that is why the police were so clever at solving the crimes.
A fancy-dress party is in full swing and everything seems normal until someone is murdered, which rather put people off doing the hokey-cokey. Enter the police – played here by Gray O’Brien (who was actually born with the name Gerard, so I suppose he changed it so as not to get confused with the actor Gerard Butler) and as DS Hot Totty the very lovely Charlie Clements (who people may remember as the Pizza boy in The Car).
Unfortunately because the police keep leaving the hall and do a lot of their interviewing of suspects off-stage they miss the second murder being committed and everyone in the house is under suspicion apart from the people who have been murdered.
April Pearson played Isla Crane, who was the frightened lady of the title. She was really good at being frightened, and she portrayed this by screaming more than once. It made me scream too, the first time, as it was very unexpected and I was concentrating on Lord Lebanon’s (Ben Nealon) shoes at the time as they were very shiny.
Lady Lebanon was played by Rula Lenska and we knew how important she was as one of the nobility because she stood by herself in the centre of the stage to deliver her lines. I did wonder if she was frightened of being in other positions on the stage but realised she wasn’t the frightened lady of the title so perhaps director Roy Marsden (who once appeared in the Dick Emery Show) did it just to show how important she was.
Glenn Carter and Callum Coates were good playing sinister servants who kept popping up when you least expected it, though it was usually after another character said suspiciously, “There’s someone listening!”
I have to say that I did guess who the murderer was but that was largely because they were shouting a lot and I felt they were trying to draw attention to themselves, which could have been a red herring but of course it wasn’t, which just goes to show what an accomplished writer Edgar Wallace was.