Review: Night Must Fall. Nottingham Theatre Royal

Night Must Fall

Written by Emlyn Williams

Directed by John Goodrum

The Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season 2022

Nottingham Theatre Royal

Tuesday 9th August – Saturday 13th August

Who doesn’t love a good thriller? I know that I do and ‘The Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season’ is always in my diary. It’s like wearing your favourite pair of slippers, whilst plunging down a water flume – comforting and exciting at the same time.

Night Must Fall is the third play in this year’s season and is a psychological thriller. Set in 1935, we are transported to the sitting room, at ‘Forest Corner’, of the irascible Mrs Bramson (Karen Henson) and her disheartened niece Olivia Grayne (Sarah Wynne Kordas).

The pleasing set design by Matt Sykes-Hooban immediately evokes feelings of a more genteel era, with its lace tablecloth, embroidered fire screen and Chesterfield sofa. Yet, the play soon begins to take on an altogether more sinister tone, signposted by the prologue from The Court of Criminal Appeal and the knowledge that a young woman is missing.

The maid, Dora Parkoe (Juliette Strobel) has unfortunately fallen pregnant to a young man named Dan (David Osmond). He is summoned by the forceful Mrs Bramson to explain himself and to set out his future intentions towards the hapless Dora. Dan swiftly inveigles his way into employment at ‘Forest Corner,’ much to the dismay of Olivia. We can only marvel at his chutzpah and expert manipulation as he begins to charm the household.

If this all sounds quite dark, you may be surprised at the sheer amount of humour in this production. Mrs Terence, the housekeeper, played by Susan Earnshaw has terrific one-liners that she delivers with perfect comic timing as she bristles and bustles her way across the stage. ‘You stick that in your copybook and blot it,’ she proclaims with surety and the audience laugh out loud.

Earnshaw is equally matched by the inimitable Andrew Ryan as Olivia’s would-be suitor, Hubert Laurie. ‘You’re an unmitigated bore,’ Olivia tells him, and we simultaneously wince at the barb, but chuckle in agreement.

Ryan looks like he has time-travelled direct from the 1930s and I am a huge fan. His delivery, mannerisms and expressions give life to what could be an overlooked secondary role in less capable hands. His costume by Geoff Gilder also suits him perfectly. At the risk of causing offence, there is always something faintly comical about a man in plus-fours.

The central pairing of David Osmond (Dan) and Wynne Kordas (Olivia) cope well with Williams’ script and are ably supported by Jeremy Lloyd Thomas as the proficient Inspector Belsize. When the body of the missing young woman turns up in the rubbish pit, Olivia’s suspicions about Dan harden, even whilst her attraction to him grows. ‘He’s acting every minute of the day,’ she declares, yet she still finds herself defending him in unexpected ways.

My only caveat with this production would be the source material itself. It can sound somewhat florid and melodramatic in places. Written in 1935, Williams was experimenting with a new genre of psychological thriller, which was more concerned with character motivation and drive, rather than plot or ‘whodunnit’. We need to make allowance for that and the cast work hard to overcome the script’s perceived shortfalls. All credit to the director, John Goodrum, for mitigating against this.

At the curtain call, Karen Henson, informs us that the ‘Colin McIntyre’ season will be back next year for four consecutive weeks. This delights the regulars who return every year, and it is worth knowing that you can buy a season ticket for all the plays in any given run. She also asks the audience to contact Tabs Productions if you have suggestions for what you would like to see revived and performed.

If you go down to the woods today, my advice is to stay away from truculent housekeepers, jilted suitors, and smooth-talking postboys. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Running Time – 2 hours 20 minutes (including interval)

Fun fact – Did you know that Agatha Christie called the Theatre Royal her ‘lucky theatre’ after the U.K.’s now longest running show The Mousetrap premiered there?

This classic murder mystery will be back at its original home for a 70th Anniversary Tour beginning on 27th September 2022.

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