Wheathampstead Dramatic Society
Those of you who read my piece on Redbourn’s Funny Money, there were a few, may be wondering why I have not blogged Wheathampstead’s Dangerous Corner. After all, I was looking forward to it and sharpening my pen in Redbourn was a mere theatrical taster following a winter as fallow as my racing wins. Perhaps I didn’t go, you may say. Stayed indoors watching some dreary reality show about Peruvian knitting or custard making in the Cotswolds. Actually, the latter might be fun so look out for it on BBC Four sometime soon. But I digress, as they say. I did go and see it, Dangerous Corner that is, and came away thinking fondly of those Peruvian knitters and that Cotswold custard. That comment is not meant to be cruel. It is said, or written, with a heavy heart. I watched this favourite J B Priestly play and thought, as some in the audience inappropriately chortled, that something theatrically precious was being damaged. Wheathampstead Players should not have staged it. They should have found something more suitable for the poor young girl directing it. With some bizarre casting she never stood a chance of pulling it off. Bear with me and I will tell you why. Either that or sod off and make some custard.
The good bits first. The characters in Priestley’s play are very nice 1930’s folk who formally dress for dinner, even in private. Ladies in posh frocks, men in evening dress, cocktails and canapés. It is an age long gone but always pleasing to see recreated on stage. And Wheathampstead Players did that bit well. No farty updating here on a modern council estate with girls in dungarees and men in jeans. You could, given the narrative premise, but thankfully they resisted and retained that old world charm. Smug, self satisfied, successful folk, indulging in an evening soiree. Nothing could be nicer. What makes Priestley’s famous first ‘time play’ grip is the stripping of the cosy veneer following a casual remark regarding a musical box. By the end of the play these nice people are as snarling snakes writhing in the bottom of some dark emotional pit. I will not regale you with the details but it is all very clever, especially the end when all returns to cosy normality, and endlessly fascinates lovers of pure theatre. Are we all like that when the guard is carelessly down? Do we all have dangerous conversational corners? Say what you like about old John Boynton but he could certainly construct a play.
So you may ask, assuming you are still awake, where did it all go wrong? Casting folks, nothing more, nothing less. Jonathan Field made for a fine, straight laced, Robert Caplan and Steve Leadbetter scored quite a few acting points for the more worldly wise Charles Stanton. But much else displeased and disappointed. Irene Morris, fine actress, was scuppered by her discombobulated hair and Julie Field, fine director, portrayed an inappropriate heaviness to hostess Freda. Lines which should have been as sharp as mustard merely dropped as leaden weights. The Whitehouse pair, supposedly bright young things Betty and Gordon, were simply much too old to convince. I felt sorry for the two actors concerned. I have seen them both to better effect so will refrain from damning them here. Viv Fairley made for a convincing, if slightly muted Miss Mockridge, and her and Messrs Field and Leadbetter scored the only brownie points I am offering. But overall this was a theatrical Dangerous Corner that should have been sensibly swerved. Roy Hall