The Case of the Frightened Lady Review

There are strange goings-on at Marks Priory. With many people lurking, and many motives, can Chief Superintendent Tanner and Detective Sergeant Totti solve the crimes?

If I told you Antony Lampard’s adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s murder mystery was set entirely and exclusively in the hallway of a mansion, would it intrigue you? No? I thought as much.

The characters drift in and out of the grand halls (with just the right convenient number of exits and entrances) with a unanimous air of indifference. Though there are only three women in the play with speaking parts, none seem particularly frightened. In fact, they’re rather hardy when murder strikes. Deborah Grant as the formidable Lady Lebanon comes across entirely cold and wicked, think Pantomime Queen without the funny, which is a shame as her character has some room for a little empathy. Lady Lebanon is desperate to protect her family’s name, an interesting hark back to the 30s and the importance of the aristocracy and status. She’s determined to marry off her son, William (played by Ben Nealon) to the dreary Isla Crane (played with little enthusiasm by April Pearson).

The male characters are nothing to write home about, either. Ben Nealon as Lord Lebanon ranges character wildly from cavalier rich kid to raging psychopath, going from one to another with a flick of a poorly executed thunder sound effect.  His loitering servants Gilder (Simon Desborough) and Brook (Callum Coates) provide Lurch-like stereotypes, and I can’t help but wonder why the inspectors don’t take their investigation into a more private room. They’re in a mansion, after all.

The big names have a lot to live up to

It was nostalgically lovely to see Harry Potter star Oliver Phelps as Detective Sergeant Totti, though I don’t think the part has anywhere near enough magic to suit his unique impish charm we all know and love. I feel the same about the lovely Philip Lowrie (best known as Dennis Tanner in Coronation Street) as butler/foreman Kelver.

Gray O’Brien (another ex-Corrie star… Tony Gordon, anyone?) as Chief Superintendent Tanner holds the most gravitas, though the part offers him little to play with. I feel he’d be more at home in a production with some real opportunity for character development – he tries his best, but all he’s really given to go at is a basic Q&A format in which his inspector character interviews the rest of the cast in turn, with varying degree of success and eavesdropping.

Unfortunately, it’s just not a very interesting play, made worse by the dull direction from Roy Marsden. It’s a tall order to set a play entirely in a hallway, with little props or focal points, and it becomes tiresomely expositional rather quickly. Even for murder mystery enthusiasts, I doubt there’s enough fright or delight to keep an audience intrigued.

Do you want to solve The Case of the Frightened Lady?

Catch it at Leeds Grand Theatre until 28th July 2018.

Photography credited to Pamela Raith

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