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

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 11th Dec 2016 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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A Dark Night's Adventure...

After the highly successful 2015 Arthur Miller premiere No Villain, the Old Red Lion Theatre now presents the world premiere of Duncan Gates' stage adaptation of J. B. Priestley's novel. Benighted was brought to the screen by famed horror director James Whale as the 1932 classic The Old Dark House, one of the first films dealing with the theme of spooky houses in forlorn places.

Like in The Rocky Horror Show a couple is stranded in the countryside during a heavy thunderstorm. Margaret (Harrie Hayes) and Philip Waverton (Tom Machell) and their cheerful friend Roger Penderel (Matt Maltby) make their way to a dilipidated house on a hill to seek refuge from the inclement weather. Their welcome by the eccentric Mr Femm (Michael Sadler) and his even stranger sister Rebecca (Ross Forder) is as frosty as the house is uninviting. Despite a sip of gin and a change of clothes, the guests begin to feel increasingly uncomfortable in the ramshackle building. When they are joined by another couple, Sir William Porterhouse (Ross Forder) and his companion, a revue girl named Gladys Du Cane (Jessica Bay), they all agree that something is not quite right in the Femm residence. 

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Michael Sadler as Mr Femm

Created when J. B. Priestley was still a struggling writer, Benighted already shows the social conscience of the lifelong socialist as his characters, thrown together in the middle of nowhere, ponder moral questions. All of the characters are burdened with their own little unpleasant secrets, particulary jokester Roger Pendrell, who is still struggling with his traumatic experiences of World War I. The Great War plays an important part in Priestley's story, written only nine years after it ended, and still influencing the lives of those who survived it.

Adapting Priestley's novel that includes a good deal of soul searching and long monologues within the framework of a horror story is no mean feat and Duncan Gates has succeeded in creating a reasonable balance, making for an exciting and meaningful play featuring an impressive cast.

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Harrie Hayes as Margaret Waverton

Yet Stephen Whitson's production cannot quite decide whether it wants to be a serious drama or a comedy. The tone swerves between moralistic discussion and comical horror story. At some point the characters become so nervous that they even jump when somebody is not present. The fight scene in slow motion complete with strobe lights is pure slapstick. These scenes jar somewhat with the serious tone of other parts of the play. The ending of the 80-minute play is rather abrupt and makes one wonder if there is more to come.

Gregor Donnelly's set design, an expressionistic vision of a haunted house, all angles and gloominess, dominated by a grandfather clock, and David Gregor's spine-tingling sound design greatly add to the spooky atmosphere of the production and the important themes of reality and illusion. 

An enjoyable, atmospheric production despite some minor flaws.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 7th January 2017

Old Red Lion Theatre

418 St John Street, London, EC1V 4NJ

Tickets: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/benighted.html

Box Office: 0844 412 4307

Tuesday - Sunday at 7:30pm
Saturday & Sunday matinees 2.30pm
Tuesday matinee 27th December & 3rd January at 2.30pm, Wednesday matinee 4th January at 2.30pm
Thursday & Friday matinees 29th & 30th December, 5th & 6th January 2.30pm
No performances 12th, 19th, 24th & 25th December & 2nd January

Post-Show Discussions (Free to ticket holders) 

Tuesday 13th December - Join the adaptor of J.B. Priestley's "Benighted" Duncan Gates in a post show discussion with Actor Paul Shelly.

Running time: 80 minutes without an interval

Photographs by Chris Gardner.

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