I caught The Agatha Christie Company’s latest touring thriller production, The Case of the Frightened Lady at Theatre Royal Windsor, where a disclaimer in the lobby, promising loud screams and loud gun shots, raised my expectations of a thoroughly entertaining evening. A new adaptation by Anthony Lampard of the book of the same name by crime writer Edgar Wallace, this Kenwright production is directed by actor Roy Marsden, famous for starring as Adam Dalgliesh in the television series of the P.D. James detective novels.
A classic whodunnit, bound to please detective thriller fans, the commanding Rula Lenska is well cast as Lady Lebanon of Mark’s Prior, desperate to preserve the family lineage. As such she is determined to marry her son, Lord Lebanon (Ben Nealon) to poor distant relation, Isla Crane (played by the charismatic April Pearson) who is currently living with them and receiving hand-outs for her mother and sisters. The fact that Lord L seems very little interested in the opposite sex is neither here nor there, duty must come first.
A fancy dress party provides a colourful opening (costumes by Alex Stewart) and more insight into the extensive array of characters, including Dr Amersham (Denis Lil), who, over the course of the play, repeatedly expresses his desire to be off back to London for important meetings, but is nonetheless under the thumb of Lady Lebanon who beckons him on various reasons including to discuss her son’s potential marriage.
This is soon overshadowed by Isla’s screams about a murder, cue Chief Superintendent Tanner (Gray O’Brien) and his sidekick Detective Sergeant Totti (Charlie Clements) who begin interviewing the reluctant household. All the action takes place in the castle-style lobby designed by Julie Godfrey, with various nooks and crannies for those who want to eavesdrop – and it appears there is always someone listening, not least servant Gilder (Glenn Carter). More murders ensue and with a large list of possible suspects and plenty of red herrings, we are kept guessing throughout with an ending that is satisfactorily unexpected.
It’s remarkable that, considering Edgar Wallace was the brainchild of King Kong, his name so rarely pops up nowadays. Or is it? The Case of the Frightened Lady is more laugh-a-minute than fright-a-minute, but although I wasn’t remotely scared, I confess to having jumped out of my seat a few times due to a clap of thunder or a pistol being fired (sound by Dan Samson). The cast seem to be having a jolly time teasing the audience with possible scenarios and all in all it was good old-fashioned family fun, which is precisely what it’s meant to be.
The reviewer saw The Case of the Frightened Lady at Theatre Royal Windsor during an extensive UK 2018 tour. For more information, venues and to book tickets please visit the website.