We’re in the dark at the start of this play, quite literally, listening to the closing moments of a BBC Radio play entitled “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”. The play ends and the lights come up on a gathering of closely knit associates who discuss why the author would choose such a strange title. They’re failure to come a conclusion seriously ruins their evening.
J B Priestley’s 1932 play is an immaculate master class in the arts of drama and suspense. The dialogue rattles along. The lines go clacketty clack like an express train; dropping clues like hot cinders.
Priestley’s style may be firmly rooted in the era of the traditional, well-made, drawing room drama; but in ‘Dangerous Corner’ his subject matter encompasses theft, adultery, homosexuality, lewd art and recreational drugs. There’s a shocking new revelation every 90 seconds. It all has the air of an upper-class, pre-war Eastenders omnibus. And it’s riveting stuff.
Naughty Mr Priestley never lets us meet his most interesting character. He’s well dead before the play begins…presumably by his own hand. But a loose comment by a houseguest in the oak-panelled parlour wakes a dog that should have been left quietly snoozing and there’s no going back. The whiskey goes down and the gloves come off as truth after truth tumbles out…often as ridiculously as they do on Eastenders. The rapidity of the revelations is quite comical and a rapt audience too full advantage of the levity.
Michael Praed proves himself to be the master of both the disarmingly witty one-liner and the casual bombshell. He shines in a classy ensemble, who do full justice to plot and period. In Priestley’s own script he says it’s “an evening of talking wildly”. And that’s just what Director Michael Attenborough makes his cast do – with quick fire, rapid, reasoning that gives you no time to glance down at your programme.
The characters may be dated and the society in which they revolve belongs to a bygone age…but their back biting behaviour and the things they get up to behind closed doors is surprisingly 21st century.
It’s great play, expertly executed. The teenagers sitting beside me loved it.
Photo : Robert Day