The Case Of The Frightened Lady
- Lorna Irvine
- 11 October 2018
Suspense and surprises in fine adaptation
With more than a nod to a colonial version of Cluedo, Antony Lampard's play adaptation of Edgar Wallace's 1932 novel, directed by Roy Marsden, has wit and energy to spare. Part satire on Britain's crumbling empire, part murderous spin on Bluebeard's Castle, in their capable hands the Lebanon family are the very epitome of entitled Middle Englanders, the elite who will stop at nothing to get what they require out of life.
Central to this, is the young Lord Lebanon, played with swagger and seemingly foolish naivete by a brilliant Matt Barber. His mother Lady Lebanon is the classic dragon lady archetype, and Deborah Grant, clearly relishing her role, spits out bigotry as easily as she dismisses anyone she deems beneath her. Together,the duo are a wonderfully malicious cocktail, and even the manservants seem to be in on the plans which are percolating in their grand house, itself founded on corruption and bloodshed.
Scarlett Archer makes for a vulnerable yet sharply intelligent Isla Crane, Lady Lebanon's niece and the titular traumatised woman, as dead bodies appear just as regularly as cups of tea and casual racism. Thrown into the storm are another fine double act, albeit of a more comedic stripe, in the form of louche John Partridge as Chief Superintenent Tanner, channelling James Mason and a soupcon of Toast of London, all raised eyebrows and curling vowels, and a sweet, slightly bumbling Detective Sergeant Totti (Matt Lacey). Their timing and chemistry is impeccable, bringing a sense of playful kitsch to proceedings.
Indeed, only the simplistic depiction of mental health problems haven't dated very well, and let down an otherwise wry and spritely adaptation that gently mocks cliches of thriller theatricality with zingers that land more often than not.