Tag Archives: Denis Lill

The Case of the Frightened Lady

reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on 18 June

Edgar Wallace’s 1931 play was an early example of those which have an investigative policeman at the heart of the action. His Chief Superintendent Tanner, as Gray O’Brien makes clear from his first entrance, is not a man to be trifled with.

His assistant Detective Sergeant Totti (Oliver Phelps in his stage début) is no mere sidekick but an active contributor to unravelling the murderous mess in which they become involved.

It all begins with a fancy-dress party at the home of the autocratic dowager Lady Lebanon (Deborah Grant). Her son (Ben Nealon) may have inherited the centuries-old title and the heavily restored family seat, but balks at settling down to responsibility.

That includes marrying his attractive but impoverished cousin Isla Crane (April Pearson), the title character. He is also at odds with most of his mother’s staff. They, to put it mildly, are an odd bunch.

Gilder (Glenn Carter), butler Kelver (Philip Lowrie) and housekeeper Mrs Tilling (Rosie Thomson) have their own spiky variations on one-upmanship. Denis Lill’s Dr Amersham is not quite the genial friendly practitioner initial impressions might suggest.

So it goes on in violence. Adapter Antony Lampard and director Roy Marsden keep the action flowing with scenes of activity intercut with personal verbal exchanges. The trouble is that we in the audience are so busy following the plot that we end up thoroughly bemused.

The transitions are akin to those in a novel or even a film. Lighting designer Chris Davey uses subtle shifts of light to indicate them but even so doesn’t really clarify anything. It’s all of its inter-war period but tries too hard for 21st century relevance.

Costume changes proliferate, with some neat touches to indicate status and seniority. Wallace knew his craft and perhaps it should simply have been taken as he wrote it. You can’t fault the actors; everyone takes it at proper face value. But it just doesn’t work.

Three and a half-star rating.

The Case of the Frightened Lady continues at the Palace Theatre Westcliff until 23 June with matinées on 21 and 23 June. It is also at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds between 30 July and 4 August.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

Shadowlands

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 15 March)

Some love stories are rooted in place as well as time; they epitomise both. Take William Nicholson’s popular play Shadowlands about the relationship between Oxford academic, writer of children’s novels – such as the Narnia series – and sought-after broadcaster on religious subjects CS Lewis.

Secure in his common room circle, Lewis’ apparently calm existence was disrupted by the advent of American divorcée Joy Gresham and her Narnia-addicted son Douglas. What began as a formal acquaintance matured into affection and, after Gresham’s diagnosis with an incurable illness, love and ultimately marriage.

A church-blessed wedding between a committed Anglican and a Jewish-born, Christian convert divorcée was deemed impossible – at the time. Think about Princess Margaret’s doomed desire to marry Group-Captain Townsend and the furore this evoked, not just within political and ecclesiastical circles.

Alastair Whatley’s new production for Birdsong Productions and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford has a flexibly realistic set by Whatley and Anne-Marie Woodley which takes us from common room to the house Lewis shares with his brother Warnie to a tea-room and a hospital. Which leaves a great deal up to the performers themselves.

As Gresham, Amanda Ryan presents a sharp-witted (not to say, sharp-tongued) single mother trying to carve out an intellectual life for herself while bringing up two boys. Post-war England seems to offer more satisfactory solutions to her financial and emotional problems than the United States. You believe in her throughout, and long for her lengthening shadows to be lifted.

Balancing this is Stephen Boxer’s quiet but steely Lewis, a man who is more open to the changing world than many of his contemporaries. The moment when he embraces Shannon Rewcroft’s bereaved Douglas as both face up to a Joy-less future is immensely moving. There’s more than one way in which a heart can break; it’s not necessarily a noisy process.

The university’s masculine, not to say misogynist, coven includes Simon Shackleton as the acidic Professor Riley, Jeffrey Harmer as the devout Reverend Harrington and Denis Lill as Warnie, a bull of a man who yet manages to fit tidily into the different Oxford environments.

Shadowlands runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 19 March wih a matinée on 19 March. It can also be seen at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge (23-28 May), the Mercury Theatre, Colchester (4-9 July) and the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds (11-16 July).

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Twelve Angry Men

(reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on 11 May)

Most of us know Reginald Rose’s now-classic play about 12 jurymen arguing the case for and against convicting a 15-year old for the murder of his abusive father through the Sydney Lumet form starring Henry Fonda of 1957. But the stage vrsion has just as illustrious a pedigree and is once more on tour in Christopher Haydon’s production.

Haydon keeps the 1950s setting and Michael Pavelka’s set evokes the physical as well as mental and emotional heat generated as what seems like an open-and-shut case is splintered by one juror’s determination to vote not guilty, because he has “reasonable doubts” a specified by the off-stage summing-up by the judge.

More than the usual racial and social prejudices of the period come tumbling out as the arguments thicken, occasionally tipping over into actual violence. From the young man who has tickets for a basket-ball game (so much more important than whether or not a teenager is sent to the electric chair) through the rough-cast red-necks to the more thoughtful older men, the tension builds as minds are changed, not always for the most obvious of reasons.

Jason Merrell leads the cast as Juror 8 whose main opponents are Robert Duncan as the obstreperous Juror 4 and Andrew Lancel’s Juror 3. Denis Lill contributes a fine character study of the outsider Juror 10, a man whose past has included being suspected and despised; Andrew Frame is the foreman of the jury.

The first couple of scenes were a bit of a blur; a case of mumble and gobble while the audience came to terms with the mid-American accents. As the arguments develop, so did the clarity of speech as well as action, so that there was a real sense of being locked in that airless juryroom as the minutes tick by and apparently solid evidence reveals its weaknesses.

Twelve Angry Men runs at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff until 16 May.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015