Benighted by J. B. Priestley at The Old Red Lion Theatre

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Damien Tracey productions have taken J. B. Priestley’s ‘dark night’s adventure’ and turned it into a stage production, trying to create a Christmas/comedy/horror for all to enjoy at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Driving through Wales, Mr and Mrs Waverton and their friend Roger Pendelton break down with only a dark house looming on the hill as refuge. Once invited in by the strange doorman, they meet the Femms. Rebecca is the God-fearing sister of Horace. Horace would much rather be drinking gin. They are joined by another couple who are similarly stranded, Sir William Porterhouse, a wealthy fabric businessman and showgirl, Gladys du Cane. Between them they try to wait out the night in the creepy abode, and as the night wears on, learn the tale of the third Femm sibling, locked away in the top of the house…

There was some very fine acting from a strong cast of actors. Harrie Hayes and Tom Machell played the upper crust Wavertons with a perfect manner and decorum. Matt Maltby played a nuanced character, overtly happy but holding in some darker feelings due to his wartime experiences. His conversation with Jessica Bay as Gladys du Cane outside the house was a highlight. Jessica Bay for her part was equally brilliant creating a charcter for whom we felt the most sympathy. Michael Sadler brought a lot of the comedy to this piece, with his strangely silent butler, Morgan, and his vocally excentric, Horace Femm. Ross Forder completed the company, bringing a final dose of humour to the piece in his portrayal of the Femm sister.

We were under the impression we would be in for some kind of Christmas comedy/horror. Sadly all of these elements seemed lacking. Although there were moments of horror and comedy, and it takes place just before Christmas, there did not seem to be a stylistic focus. Instead we got a few couples in a house, chatting, without much happening until the end. There were no big scares and no big laughs. There was almost a nice use of sound effects at the beginning, but imperfect timing diminished their impact. In any case, this complex sequence made an effective execution impossible.

The highlight of the piece was surely Gregor Donnelly’s beautiful set, which promised so much more than the play provided. Dark walls, different floor levels protruding at odd angles and one wall covered in chairs that seemed to be melting into it. Gothic horror it screamed!

Adapting a book into a piece of theatre is no easy feat. An entertaining book can make an entertaining play but it is no small task. This adaptation needed the horror or comedy elements ramped up and the text taken further. As a play J. B. Preistley’s ‘Benighted’ was slightly underwhelming.

WIGS 2/5

By The Ginger Wig

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