The Case of the Frightened Lady

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The Theatre Royal, Brighton, running until Saturday, June 30

ONCE Britain’s most prolific crime writer, Edgar Wallace was no businessman.

He self-published his first novel The Four Just Men with, in place of an ending, the offer of a £500 reward for anyone who guessed whodunnit.

Unfortunately many did and Wallace was left almost bankrupt. The Case of the Frightened Lady, the latest outing by Bill Kenwright’s Classic Thriller Theatre Company, is an enterprise similarly conceived with a built-in financial flaw, and it, and shows like it, will eventually be the death of our much-loved theatres.

A glance around the half-empty auditorium reveals an exclusively white audience – and that’s just hair.

The first page of the programme is an advertisement for a care home. It’s a far cry from the vibrant diversity of the Brighton Festival.

Which is not to say that white people with white hair shouldn’t get a night out, of course they should, but everybody deserves more than to queue glumly for ice-cream having paid to sit through terminal decline.

The combination of Antony Lampard’s creaking “new” adaptation of the Wallace classic and Roy Marsden’s mogadon directing leave the cast wandering about the stage wondering what to do. It’s as if they have arrived for a coach trip only to find the driver is already in a vegetative state.

But back to the financial flaw.

Multi-millionaire Kenwright’s previous Agatha Christie Theatre Company sold over two million tickets in ten years.

If you’re a Grade II listed regional theatre with a proscenium arch you’ve got to get bums on seats.

Seems like a no-brainer.

But you’ve got to give those bums a reason to come back and unfortunately, as the ad in the programme suggests, they are ultimately going elsewhere.

Eleanor Knight

Brighton Shakespeare Company: The Comedy of Errors

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Brighton Open Air Theatre, Wednesday, June 27

ON THESE warm summer evenings, there aren’t many places better to watch a play than Brighton Open Air Theatre.

The Comedy of Errors in some ways is atypical Shakespeare. It’s his shortest play and the humour is more slapstick than in his other comedies. It would make for a good introduction to the writer.

It’s a production that starts hesitantly. The actors struggling a bit with the special difficulties of al fresco theatre, with all the challenges of the ambient noise, but soon hit their stride.

Director Mark Brailsford, as Dromio of Syracuse, relishes the opportunity for some ad libbing, gleefully supported by Stewart Barham, as his twin.

There’s also a good gag about Croydon, that’s warmly appreciated.

The play really picks up in the second half as the action becomes more manic and all the cast start to grasp the opportunities for a bit of improvisation.

There are some particularly good comic performances from Brandon Jewell and Sophie Flack in the small roles of a goldsmith and courtesan, and there’s even a Wilson, Keppel and Betty routine thrown in.

This really is perfect summer evening entertainment, Shakespeare’s intricate plot mixed with some Brightonian comic touches – just don’t leave your wine unattended.

Maxwell Cooter