An accident waiting to happen

theatre : Dangerous Corner Whitehall, London
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The Independent Culture
Someone should write a play set in an imaginary limbo populated by all the major offstage characters of world drama. You couldn't rely on Godot, of course, but it would be fun to introduce, say, Mrs Vershinin (who languishes in the wings of Three Sisters) to whatever sinister person or persons operate the dumbwaiter in the Pinter play of the same name. Or take Reg, the offstage (posthumous) figure who has, you gradually gather, had sexual relations with virtually all of the onstage characters in My Night With Reg.

I kept thinking of him while I was watching Keith Baxter's chic revival of Dangerous Corner, now transferred from Chichester to the Whitehall Theatre. This is because Priestley's play is also concerned with the little legacies left by a sexually desirable, now deceased young man. If druggie golden-boy Martin wasn't exactly screwing everyone, he was screwing everyone up. It was characteristic of him to go about besotting both a woman and her brother and that he should disbelieve (to the point of attempted rape) refusals to be seduced. Introduce Martin to Reg and they'd certainly be able to compare notes and ruffle a few duvets.

All of which might be more interesting than what was happening onstage at the Whitehall. Even Priestley, not a writer plagued by false modesty, referred to Dangerous Corner as "merely an ingenious box of tricks". The play sets out to prove that there is a difference between the Truth and the truth. The famous trompe-l'oeil opening turns out to be the pistol shot climax of a radio drama, The Sleeping Dog - the suicide of a man who drove himself to despair by probing too far. As the post-dinner party circle of friends are accidentally provoked into holding an inquest on the recent past and skeletons fall out of every available cupboard, the play proper heads in the same direction as the radio drama, with the difference that, at the tragic end, it goes back to the start and allows reality to take a more merciful route.

But the characters are the thinnest ciphers, as not even Baxter's talented cast can disguise, and you've got the point long, long, before the daisy-chain of deceit has been laboriously unfolded. It's an irony that a play which argues that truth is not tobe confused with the facts we keep secret should be as plottily preoccupied by those latter as any detective thriller. Baxter has introduced interesting touches, but the play still comes across as an arid exercise.

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