Wheelchair- and bungalow-bound battleaxe Mrs Bramson is surrounded by a subdued spinster, a no-nonsense nurse and other sundry stereotypes who wander about a set that looks like a hangover from Hansel and Gretel, all wooden gables and cut-out trees. The maid is discovered to be pregnant in one of several shoddily acted scenes (making weeping noises and burying your head is not enough) cueing the arrival of the feckless father, a bellhop and the sole excuse for exhuming Emlyn Williams's old warhorse of a thriller.
Danny, the selfish, self-centred psychopath is a juicy role that the author wrote for himself. Albert Finney played it in the second film version. With its reliance on winning charm, lightning changes of mood, intensity and introspection, the entire play stands and falls on the strength of it. Given all that, who would you cast? The answer, according to producer Bill Kenwright, is Jason Donovan.
Donovan is no stranger to bad advice. Successfully suing The Face for describing him as a hypocrite and a closet homosexual may have won him damages but it lost him half his fans. The remaining ex-teeny-boppers certainly don't want to see him in "some boring old thriller". As for the matinee crowd, they don't want Donovan. The result? The production with no potential audience. If he's still feeling litigious, perhaps he should sue his agent who should have never have let him near the role. Certainly, someone should tell him to cut his musical comedy entrance, which finds him sweeping downstage beaming at the audience, arms outstretched to receive non-existent applause. Then there's the accent. The part is supposed to be vaguely Celt-ish. That doesn't mean embarking on a tour from Dublin to Delhi via Dr Finlay (and, when his voice shoots up the octave, we're talking Janet). With an unconvincing Danny, the entire play falls apart.
It's not all his fault. John Tydeman's direction is shockingly slack. Tension rarely rears its head thanks to pacing so leaden you would swear it was stolen from a church roof. Scenes have no impetus and the staging of the murder is simply inept. Even the sound effects and lighting are lousy. Rosemary Leach is a suitably cantankerous victim but Anne Jameson deserves an award for kicking life into the role of the cook.
After the try-out in Leatherhead, what possessed Kenwright to bring this rubbish into town? When he brought in Dial M for Murder, I suggested that were the West End full of similar fare it would be cause for a public enquiry. The time has come.
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