Theatre review: The Case of the Frightened Lady

Edgar Wallace's The Case of the Frightened Lady
Edgar Wallace's The Case of the Frightened Lady
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ACCORDING to a programme note to this latest touring production from Bill Kenwright’s Classic Thriller Company, Edgar Wallace is the king of the modern thriller; but if this ineffably wooden and ridiculous staging of his 1920s play The Case Of The Frightened Lady is any guide, the entire genre may have been lucky to survive his attentions at all.

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh **

The action is set in the great Gothic entrance hall of Marks Priory, the family seat of the widowed Lady Lebanon and her raffish son, Lord Lebanon. Lady Lebanon, played with frozen grandeur by Rula Lenska, is scheming to have her son marry her young secretary, a pretty but impoverished second cousin; but her plans are disrupted by two horrible murders, committed with a strange garroting device made from a scarlet scarf.

Perhaps a more energetic and well-choreographed production might bring out a few interesting themes from the play, about the dark legacy of empire, and the lethal delusions of extreme aristocracy. In this case, though, Roy Marsden’s production looks like nothing so much as a parade of stuffed dummies, as characters enter and leave the stage for no apparent reason leaving it empty for seconds at a stretch, while Chief Superintendent Tanner of the CID – played by Gray O’Brien of Coronation Street – plods his way to discovering who done it. Offhand, I can’t remember seeing odder sets of expressions from a distinguished company of actors as they took their bows, ranging from amusement and apology to sheer incredulity at being paid to deliver such tosh; and after two hours at Marks Priory, the audience looked as if they couldn’t believe it, either.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Final performances today