Review: The Case of the Frightened Lady, Buxton Opera House

I wanted to leave the theatre last night saying I had been pleasantly surprised by what I had seen on stage. Sadly that was not the case. 

I wasn’t disappointed though, as The Case of The Frightened Lady at Buxton Opera House was exactly what I had been expecting. 

The original play was described as having lost much of its punch as far back as the 1940s, when a film version was released and I feared, that unless this adaptation included some 21st century innovation, it was going to be something of a damp squib.

It is true that for die-hard fans of the murder mystery genre there were all the required ingredients – thunderclaps, flickering lights, off-stage screams, a gun, a rope and even a doctored brandy.

What it lacked unfortunately was any real suspense and it was almost a relief when the twist in the tale revealed the family’s closely guarded secret and the murderer was unmasked.

The pedigree of playwright Edgar Wallace (known as King of the Detective Thriller) was not in question, as he penned The Case of the Frightened Lady in the 1930s – back then it would almost certainly have been the height of excitement.

Likewise, Bill Kenwright is a hugely successful on-stage producer, so I assume the company was hoping to build on the popularity of The Agatha Christie Company by creating The Classic Thriller Company, which is touring this show.

A good idea, but if you are going to expect Christie fans to turn up to watch a whodunnit by someone else then you need to give them a bit more than a static stage setting (in this case the huge hallway of a stately home) and a cast of various well-known television actors (all doing their very best in the circumstances) who simply run across the stage from time to time without having anywhere to go or anything much to do.

It would probably have been more fun to have been sitting in the sidelines watching a dozen friends at a murder mystery evening reading the script from party pack prompt cards. 

Somehow you got the feeling that the team behind the production said let’s just keep it simple and get it out there. Never good – but at least that would excuse director Roy Marsden and the man behind the adaptation Antony Lampard from any blame for this rather lame show.

It has been praised by one critic as ‘the best murder mystery I have seen since The Mousetrap’, which depends very much on what they had seen since Christie’s classic and clearly doesn’t make this one any good.

It is to be applauded that Buxton Opera House is staging drama among all the other wonderful shows on offer at the award-winning venue, but (the cast of well-known television stars aside) I am sure other production companies, or even local amateur groups, would be better value.

The Case of the Frightened Lady can be seen at Buxton Opera House until Saturday at 7.30pm. There are matinees tomorrow (Wednesday) and on Saturday. For tickets click  here.

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