F is married to R but was having an affair with M (R's brother, now deceased) but R in fact loves B who is married to G who was also having an affair with M (dead but, let's face it, not narrow-minded). Meanwhile R is loved by O who is secretly loved by C who beds B in the meantime. Does this sound to you like a gang of friends and relations who should play the truth game?
JB Priestley's genius – revealed in the epilogue – is to demonstrate how it only takes a momentarily broken radio and a cigarette box to trigger all the mayhem. From that point on, revelation cues revelation and the result is, as they would have said in the Thirties, pretty damn bloody.
But the strength of this revival is that they are not lounging around in lounge suits and co-respondent shoes, they're coked-up 21st century execs who drain bottles of Stolly without breaking sweat. Laurie Sansom has modernised Priestley's 1932 play and made it happen to six of today's thrusting publishers and their lithe-limbed wives.
Set against a backdrop of Chekhovian birches, though deep in the English countryside, this elegant dinner party transforms smoothly into a mutual lynch mob when Olwen simply happens to mention that she recognises the mechanical cigarette box. But she can't possibly have, because its owner, Martin, killed himself the day it was delivered and she hadn't seen him for weeks. Forced to explain herself, it swiftly becomes a furious crossfire of "That's where you're wrong" admissions and "Oh I can tell you that" volte-faces.
Can the West End still support the fantastically well-made play? The cast certainly gives it everything and maybe that's where the problem lies. If Sansom just slowed it down occasionally, examined some of the boiling emotions in the way we have become accustomed to from the cinema close-up, then I think even this zealously slotted-in play could thrive. But is it the direction or the demands of the West End that forces so much to be played grandly up front, forces the actors to barrel on even when they have just confessed to theft, manslaughter, adultery or any combination of the above?
That said, it was a corking evening, breathlessly forward-moving and only occasionally garnering laughs for improbably melodramatic turn-arounds. I loved Rupert Penry-Jones' determinedly naïve quest for "the truth", blundering onwards in the face of his own humiliation. And as his wife, Anna Wilson-Jones fought cattishly for the memory of her depraved lover against the wonderfully controlled bisexuality of Steve John Shepherd.
But ultimately most touching, maybe because her character was the least touched by sensational confession, was Katie Foster-Barnes as Betty, making her professional debut. Her silliness and scarred innocence was the most striking modernism of the play.Reuse content