Review: Die Tür mit den Sieben Schlössern. Lace Market Theatre. Jakobus Theater (visiting company)

Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (1 April 1875 – 10 February 1932) was a British writer. Born into poverty as an illegitimate London child, Wallace left school at the age of 12. He joined the army at age 21 and was a war correspondent during the Second Boer War, for Reuters and the Daily Mail. Struggling with debt, he left South Africa, returned to London and began writing thrillers to raise income, publishing books including The Four Just Men (1905). Drawing on his time as a reporter in the Congo, covering the Belgian atrocities, Wallace serialised short stories in magazines such as The Windsor Magazine and later published collections such as Sanders of the River (1911). He signed with Hodder and Stoughton in 1921 and became an internationally recognised author.

Edgar Wallace

Wallace was such a prolific writer that one of his publishers claimed that a quarter of all books in England were written by him. As well as journalism, Wallace wrote screen plays, poetry, historical non-fiction, 18 stage plays, 957 short stories and over 170 novels, 12 in 1929 alone. More than 160 films have been made of Wallace’s work. In addition to his work on King Kong, he is remembered as a writer of ‘the colonial imagination’, for the J. G. Reeder detective stories, and for The Green Archer serial. He sold over 50 million copies of his combined works in various editions and The Economist describes him as “one of the most prolific thriller writers of the 20th century”. Although the great majority of his books are out of print in the UK, many are still read in Germany.

And this brings us neatly to a visiting amateur production of Wallace’s The Door With Seven Locks in German. The visitors are the Jakobus Theater who come from Karlsruhe. Their biannual visits are always highly anticipated at The Lace Market Theatre in Nottingham who enjoy a theatre twinning event both in the UK and Germany. 2022 marks the Jakobus Theater’s 50th Anniversary and The Lace Market Theatre’s 100th. It is also the 40th anniversary of the Anglo-German Theatre Exchange.

Stylised ‘ The Door With Seven Locks’ black and white production photos by Jürgen Schurr

In the past The Jakobus Theater have mostly brought their comedies such as Ray Cooney’s Why Not Stay For Breakfast? Marc Camoletti’s farce  Boeing Boeing, Peter Schaffer’s Black Comedy and Birds On The Wing by Peter Yeldam. Yet this year they are going down the crime thriller route with Die Tür mit den Sieben Schlössern by Edgar Wallace. And it’s in black and white!

Directed by Carsten Dittrich the cast are Michael Obert (Dr Antonio Staletti), Michael Scholtz (Arthur Havelock), Daniela Musial (Elizabeth Cawler), Burak Baran (Betram Cody), Andrea Voos (Mrs Millicent Lansdown), Freddi Schmieder (Tommy Cawler), Caroline Scheringer (Sybil Lansdown), and Carsten Thein (Dick Martin).

The set design by Caroline Scheringer has a range of gothic complexities as does the thrillingly suspenseful plot – a plot that is much more connected to Wallace’s novel than the two films that were very loosely based on the original book. As the show is in German the Jakobus Theatre have put together some short opening dialogue in English over a silhouetted puppet show to get the audience started on the plot. It certainly helps and is historically typical of their previous shows which somehow introduced us to the story about to unfold on stage in their language. The voice of the dying Lord Selford is narrated by Markus Künstler. As in the Edgar Wallace stories made into German Language films in the 1960/70s the show starts with the dialogue in menacing tone “Hier spricht Edgar Wallace.” followed by the sound of gunshots.

The theatrical adaptation is by Frank Thannhäusser. It is set in the 1960s and all the actors wear black and white clothing with their faces made up in grey to give the impression of a black and white film. The multifunctional set is impressive showing us an apartment, Dr Staletti’s spooky dungeon, a family crypt and the passing through of many passages in the spooky mansion. Considering that the set structure has travelled, with the actors and technical team all the way from Karlsruhe to be re-set on the smaller Lace Market Theatre stage the end results are very professional and impressive. The Jakobus Theatre shows always have attention to fine detail in all aspects and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint.

The acting throughout is exceptional by all the cast with no exceptions. Through the mainly German text (with some word play jokes built in), slightly John Barry Bond film style incidental music and perfect lighting and sound effects, this German ‘Krimi’ is a breath-stopping winner. The first act serves mainly as an introduction to the characters and their relationships with each other and their bad tempered desires to get hold of the seven keys that will unlock the tomb of Lord Selford and possibly a fabulous hoard of gold and money. By the end of the first half one murder has already been committed! The second act hots up the pace and is more action packed with more and more grisly murders lined up to happen. Who will survive and get into the tomb? Will police investigator Dick Martin (Carsten Thein) solve the case or fall amongst the dead bodies? You will have to book your free tickets for the last two performances happening today 12th April. Matinee 2.30pm and evening 7.30pm. The play runs until approximately 10pm including 20 minute interval.

A special thankyou to The Jakobus Theatre for making this important anniversary of the much anticipated theatre twinning week so thrilling and helping the friendship and love of theatre continue between Nottingham and Karlsruhe.

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