Sally Driscoll – Erica Thomas-Lowe
John Barrett – Matthew Eades
Mark Driscoll – David Griffiths
‘Dangerous Obsession’ at Bromley Little Theatre Sept 2012-09-21
In recent years thrillers have been a rarity at BLT. The last one to grace our boards was ‘Deathtrap’ way back in 2009 and was also directed by Jane Lobb.
Mere coincidence? Or is there something more sinister afoot…?
Joking aside, the reluctance among directors to attempt thrillers is probably down to the fact that the genre is such a difficult one to pull off convincingly. Too often, the results can seem corny and unintentionally amusing rather than suspenseful. So Dangerous Obsession could have turned out to be a dangerous undertaking.
Thankfully, this play has one big advantage: the author is N.J. Crisp. For those not familiar with him, Crisp was one of our most respected and prolific TV dramatists responsible for – among many others – The Brothers, Colditz and Dr. Finlay’s Casebook (not many murders or dead bodies in the latter, but it was still a fine piece of TV in its day).
With Dangerous Obsession the ‘crispness’ goes beyond the author’s name. A model of pace, precision and economy, not a word is wasted in this wonderfully tense piece.
The scene is the conservatory of Mark and Sally Driscoll’s home “somewhere in the Home Counties, 1987”. The Driscolls are very much products of the Thatcher era. With their opulent house and swimming pool they are the embodiment of 1980s smug yuppiedom, ripe for taking down a peg or two. This nemesis appears in the shape of a strange visitor called John Barratt, a seemingly meek and mild bespectacled man who turns up at the conservatory door.
Understandably unnerved by this unexpected arrival – she is alone, dressed in just a bikini and watering her plants at the time – Sally Driscoll takes one look at Barratt’s dull jacket, tie and briefcase, assumes he’s a salesman and sends him packing. But Barratt won’t be dismissed quite so easily. He claims to be an old acquaintance of the Driscolls’, he and his wife having shared a table with them at a conference in Torquay. He has come with ‘a proposition’ he wants to put to Mark.
Sally can’t remember a thing about any of this (she turns out to be rather fond of a tipple) but elects to let Barratt in to wait for Mark to come from work. Big mistake. When Mark does arrive events take an unsettling turn and it becomes apparent that Barratt’s visit has a more sinister purpose than the mere renewing of acquaintanceships.
To say any more would be to spoil the play for anyone who might see a future production elsewhere, so I won’t expand on the plot any further, except to say that we watch enthralled as a vengeful Barratt forensically strips away the Driscolls’ thin veneer of respectability like the layers of a particularly rotten onion.
The tautness of the dialogue was well-served by skilled performances from all three of the cast. As Mark, Matthew Eades gave a full-blooded portrayal of the kind of loathsome creature who flourished in the Eighties; arrogant, selfish and shallow right down to his regulation yuppie braces and stripey shirt. Erica Thomas-Lowe’s Sally was equally convincing, going from edgy, flustered nervousness at the outset to semi-intoxicated utter disintegration by the end. It was exhilarating to see two such committed and assured performances.
In many ways Barratt is a tricky character to play. Initially, he must appear quiet and unassuming – ‘a boring little man’ as the odious Mark describes him – yet convey an inner fury just bubbling under the surface. He speaks in the quiet, precise, overly formal tones of a bank manager or civil servant, which makes his actions all the more menacing – “Regrettably, a degree of fear is a necessary part of our conversation” he says at one point. The effect is like an evil John Major.
In his nondescript tweed jacket, sensible shoes and anonymous spectacles, David Griffiths certainly looked the part. His body language – sitting straight-backed, knees together, briefcase permanently clasped to him – was spot-on and his performance admirably controlled. There were a couple of occasions when he seemed a little tentative – the sexual humiliation of Sally in Act 2, for example – but for the most part this was an effective portrait of a mild man driven to drastic actions.
These fine performances were matched by Jane Lobb’s tight, assured direction, which kept everything ticking along nicely and ensured that the ‘shock’ moments were suitably unsettling. Whilst it was slightly disappointing that the ‘conservatory’ looked more like a mere back room and the furnishings were not quite as flashy and upmarket as you might expect, the set was simple, effective and well-lit; especially in Act 2 when the lights cut out revealing a chilling silhouette of a gun being held at someone’s head.
But, at the end of the day, the ultimate test of any thriller is ‘did it thrill?’ Here, I’m happy to report that the answer is yes. On the night I attended the audience gasped, ooohed and ahhed at each shock and revelation. We were totally absorbed and thoroughly gripped. As I said, it’s been rather a long time since we last saw a thriller at BLT. Dangerous Obsession made it worth the wait.