Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 26 - 29 March 2014
by J. B. Priestley
Dangerous Corner is the earliest of Priestley’s so-called “Time Plays”, the others being Time and the Conways and I Have Been Here Before. He referred to them as “Split Time”, “Serial Time” and “Circular Time” and explained that although Time was less important in Dangerous Corner than in the other two, the play could not be understood unless it is realised that he was assuming a split in the time process, so that from a given moment there are two alternative series of events set in motion. What is immediately appealing to us even today, is that we all recognise that there are such moments when something very different could have occurred. I think it is Freda who says at one point that life is “full” of dangerous corners. Philosophically, Priestley seems to be suggesting that in some mysterious universe, both versions of reality do exist and have happened! However, as far as the world we think we are in is concerned, the general consensus of the characters seems to be that what we think we know is mostly illusion and it’s better to keep it that way. Olwen says that telling everything is dangerous and people keep calling each other fools for trying to dig out the “truth”. It struck me that the play overall is quite pessimistic in exploring how blind people are to each other and how “in love with illusion” they are (as Robert says), unable to face reality.
Needless to say, all this requires quite a convoluted plot which the cast managed to put over very clearly. Indeed, the plot verges on melodrama towards the end, (when everyone has to have a dark secret revealed), and the audience was tempted to titter, but the cast held it on track admirably. This was a very good cast who all had good concentration, who listened to each other, who reacted to each other throughout even when not in the immediate focus of the action, and who somehow let us know that there was a lot more going on below the dialogue. I was particularly impressed by Viv Beckett as Freda, who was completely believable and very moving at the end. I also enjoyed Olwen’s performance very much (Rebecca Peberdy), although things got rather slow during her long speech towards the end (I think I might have cut it- Priestley does go on a bit). Terry Atkinson as Gordon showed us a range of emotions, including the odd “explosion”, which were well handled, although I thought the outbursts were vocally rather unsupported. Jon Crowley as Robert was very believable as the annoying man who will not let go, (with disastrous consequences) but I felt he could have been more passionate, even disagreeable, earlier in the play so as to prepare us better for the final outburst and suicide. Overall, I thought the acting was extremely good and the director, Lin Crowley, deserves full credit for making sure the cast interacted, understood what was going on in the subtext, and still managed to move them about to create a constantly changing picture which seemed very natural.
I was also hugely impressed by the set design. The director, with set designers Malcolm Ross and Keith Hales had managed to make the Unicorn stage look ample- even large! Those of us who have tried to perform on this stage know that this is an illusion. I think it helped that some of the potential exits were blocked up and therefore it was possible to emphasise the horizontal. I also liked the curved wall at the back with the window, which somehow suggested space beyond. I thought the idea of playing suitable music through the wireless on set was a very good one- it gave the impression that the inhabitants of the room had just stepped out for a moment. The costumes were very good. I particularly liked Olwen’s dress, but that is just envy on my part!
Overall, a very good evening, both entertaining and thought provoking.
Oenone Grant - ODN
Playing Freda Caplan in J B Priestley’s Dangerous Corner was my first role for ADC when I joined in 1987 and was a great part to have under Malcolm Ross’s direction. I had not read nor seen the play since, so reviewing it on Friday night was both a trip down memory lane and a chance to consider the work afresh.
For a while in the first act I must admit that I was inwardly groaning at the clichéd style of the dialogue and wondered why Director Lin Crowley had chosen to revive such a dated piece. Then, as the second half unfolded, I realised that what makes the play durable is Priestley’s ingenious construction. The time is the early thirties and a group of people, linked by their association with a publishing firm, are enjoying a country house weekend in the manner of the period at the home of Robert and Freda Caplan. Freda produces a musical cigarette box that belonged to Robert’s dead brother Martin. A question arises over whether one of the guests, the spinsterish Olwen would ever have seen it before. Rashly pursuing the point Robert uncovers a world of lies, theft, betrayal and gay passion. At the end of the play Priestley cleverly reverses time and shows what would have happened if the characters had simply let the music box moment pass, “the dangerous corner” of the title, and shimmied to the dance band on the radio instead.
Six of the seven characters in the play each have their “moment” in the course of the drama to reveal their true feelings about their relationship with Martin and each other. The mood morphs from drawing room comedy to high drama so the temptation for each actor to overplay his or her “moment” and ham it up is huge. Thankfully under Lin Crowley’s tightly controlled direction this was not allowed to happen. The production was very well paced and the audience’s interest intensified as we got further drawn into the labyrinth of relationships and revelations. The first half closed with a highly charged exchange between Viv Bennett as Freda Caplan and John Hawkins as Charles Stanton. Both actors gave superbly nuanced performances, capturing precisely the clipped speaking style of the period.
In the second half of the play the other four characters had their chances to let rip. Rebecca Peberdy as Olwen was chillingly convincing as she relived the horror of her last encounter with Martin. Jon Crowley as Robert Caplan won our sympathy in a very moving way with his portrayal of tragic disillusion at the collapse of his idealised image of the young Betty Whitehouse. Hayley Jones and Terry Atkinson as the Whitehouse couple tore into each other with no holds barred as they punctured the fantasy of their apparently happy marriage.
The reversal of time at the end of the play through the return to the comedy of manners opening cleverly provides light relief from the emotional rampage that preceded it. Maria Crocker as the outsider Miss Mockridge contributed well to this mood change. The set designed by Malcolm Ross and Keith Hales (Robert Stanton in the 1987 production) perfectly caught the period. The costumes were equally authentic. I recognised the costume worn by the character Olwen as the dress I wore in 1987 as Freda, so well done to Jane Cadogan for a nifty piece of recycling.
Dangerous Corner got mostly poor reviews when it was first performed in 1932 and Priestley stopped it from being taken off after 3 nights by buying out the syndicate. It then ran for six months and went on to achieve world-wide success. However by 1938 Priestley was admitting that “it is pretty thin stuff”. Credit goes to Lin Crowley and her team for pulling off such a strong production and making us think otherwise.