Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dangerous Corner

A gunshot sounds offstage; a female voice shouts from the same direction: ‘It can’t happen! It shan’t happen!’

A man’s voice from voice calls from the audience: ‘Well, it already has happened!’

The moment reminded me of Dickens writing about a staging of ‘Hamlet’, when someone from the stalls shouted at the Prince, ‘Oh, for goodness sake, make your mind up!

As an ex-amateur trouper myself I’m biased, but there’s a lot of charm about amateur productions, apart from impromptu audience participation: they usually put on out-of-copyright plays which have proved their success over the years, you don’t have to travel far and the price of tickets, refreshments and programmes are a fraction of what you pay in the West End.
I hadn’t seen JB Priestley’s Dangerous Corner before, so I gasped with the rest at the plot twists in this otherwise rather static thriller. Three company directors and wives in the 1930s are gathered for dinner, a year after the brother of one of them has committed suicide. As the evening progresses dark secrets emerge - a bit like one of those ocasional episodes of Eastenders where the protagonists go in for a bout of clearing the air. In this case we, the audience, are just as surprised as the characters.
If it sounds familiar it’s because it has a lot in common with An Inspector Calls, although revelations in the better-known play are provoked by an outside agent – the eponymous Inspector. He questions a factory owner and family members about the grisly suicide of a former employee. In a series of startling twists every member of the ‘respectable’ family assembled for a family celebration is implicated in the death.

Bradford-born Priestley took on a kind of Daily Telegraph role in 1930s, although his characters were fictional. He thought society’s values were being destroyed by the greed of small-scale capitalists. The rest of the audience was as enthralled as I was at an amateur production by The Alaxander Players at Charlton, SE17.

They say in London you’re never more than twenty feet from a rat. It seems you’re never very far from a local dramatic society either, although I wasn’t aware of the Charlton company until I saw a leaflet at the local library.

I think the Alexandra Players are one of the best amateur companies I’ve seen. Set, costumes, directing and acting were of a uniformly high standard, and I’m looking forward to their next play. This may well be a pantomime, for which, apparently, they are celebrated locally. They more than deserve their supportive audience, even if some members feel relaxed enough to comment on the drama as it happens.

Website about Amateur Theatre in London:

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