For want of a nail, in the pro-verb, the kingdom was lost. JB Priestley's Dangerous Corner likewise shows a tiny nuisance touching off a catastrophe. Because one guest can't tune the radio, everybody is revealed as a thief, an adulterer, a drug addict or a (married) homosexual. A chance remark, instead of being ignored when the company get up to dance, is challenged, then defended, and then gathers facts and force, zig-zagging around the room to smash every cardboard marriage and reputation to bits. In a nice touch, the two most innocent-seeming guests turn out to be the nastiest and the ones with the most to hide.
The claustrophobic inevitability of this conceit skids perilously close to self-parody, especially when Robert, the naive host, turns to the woman he worships and says, "Not you... how could you?" But it's only a moment in this stylish, tightly controlled production by Laurie Sansom, who has updated the play from 1932 to the present by dropping a few period references in the dialogue.
The much greater change has been made by the designer, Jessica Curtis, together with Chris Davey (lighting) and Mic Pool (sound and video). A scrim of blue birches lifts to reveal a glass wall, which in turn rises to show us the understated-chic terrarium whose black-clad inhabitants will peel off layers of protective lies. At the climax, an effect as beautiful as it is terrifying symbolises both avenging truth and Robert's dead brother, whose contempt of the others is unearthed by the cascade of confessions.
High-level acting also sustains the quality of glossy nightmare. Rupert Penry-Jones's Robert, at first bland and diffident, even when his marriage is exposed as a sham, suddenly crumbles, spitting, incoherent with rage at the woman who just ripped away his last illusion. Anna Wilson-Jones's Freda, with a décolletage that suits her sneaky bitchiness, is elegantly soulless; Dervla Kirwan is touching as the girl whose goodness helps no one, including herself. Katie Foster-Barnes, however, is openly rather than covertly spoilt and hysterical.
Though this updated version holds together, it has an odd, airless quality that cannot be explained entirely by the set and direction. Can it be, simply, that characters who don't swear, even when shocked and angry, no longer seem real to us?
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