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Dangerous Obsession - Richmond Theatre (Review)

Dangerous Obsession, Richmond Theatre

Review by David Munro

A YEAR after his death, NJ Crisp’s most famous thriller Dangerous Obsession (written in 1987) is still doing the rounds. Despite director Alan Cohen’s attempts to modernise it by inserting current references, there’s still something slightly dated about the play.

Crisp does not seem to have decided whether this is a play about conscience set against a slightly implausible background of menace, or if it’s a thriller with a message.

What occurs on stage lends credence to both theories and it says a lot for Crisp’s dramatic abilities, and the stylish performances of the cast, that we, the audience, can take the story as entertainment on its face value without too much concern as to the dramatist’s real intent.

The plot is that old standby; the malevolent intruder with a grudge – in this case, it’s Andrew Weale (substituting for an indisposed Ian Ogilvy) as Barrett who enters the home of the Driscoll’s (Mark and Sally, played by Martyn Stanbrige and Liza Goddard respectively) on the pretext of having met them before. He then proceeds to terrorise them for two acts.

Mark is a wealthy man whom, it turns out, is the lover of Barrett’s wife who is lying in hospital after a car accident caused by Driscoll.

While Barrett looks for revenge, Sally, as the innocent bystander unwittingly caught up in this drama, has to make her own decisions both as to the truth and the security of her marriage.

But if the basic premise is rather melodramatic, the resulting situation allows for a lot of dramatic moments and tension which are exploited to the utmost by the director and cast even if, after the twists and turns of the plot, the final denouement is slightly disappointing.

Lisa Goddard as Sally gives a masterful performance. Whether trying to defuse a dangerous situation by dispensing drinks and small talk like a well brought up hostess, or coming to grips with the reality that, however unbalanced their visitor may seem, he has a valid reason for his persecution of them, she never puts a foot wrong.

Added to which, she manages to look glamorous even though she spends the entirety of the play dressed in a swimsuit covered by a bathrobe. It is a well balanced and beautiful performance.

I don’t know, and never will know, how Ian Ogilvy portrayed Barrett. I suspect, though, it could not match the performance of Andrew Weale who caught exactly the right note of normality subsumed to revenge for his wife and the destruction of his marriage.

It was a case of Mr Pooter takes a stand and Mr Weale was to me perfection in his portrayal of the character. He got the nuances just right, the slightly subservient air with which he makes his entrance is gradually stripped away as his purpose becomes revealed and the mouse becomes a vicious wild beast.

He made the part real and at the same time sympathetic; skating over the more melodramatic aspects of it with aplomb and creating a real, if flawed, character. I can only applaud him for a magnificent realisation of a difficult part.

The part of Mark is a bit of a stereotype, the rich bully with a rotten and selfish heart. But Martyn Stanbridge made him likeably unlikeable. His transformation from bluster to abjectness was smoothly carried out and although one never felt that the character had anything to support it but money, that realisation came from Mr Stanbridge’s subtle characterisation; a good performance of an unsympathetic character.

At the end of a not very long evening one came away with the feeling that one had seen a nice old fashioned play beautifully staged and acted. A satisfying evening of theatre and who could ask for anything more?

Dangerous Obsession by NJ Crisp.
Directed by Alan Cohen.
Designer – Grant Hicks.
Lighting – Nick Richings.
Sound – Marcus Christensen.

CAST: Andrew Weale (understudy for Ian Ogilvy); Liza Goddard; Martyn Stanbridge.
Presented by Theatre Royal, Bath Productions.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Mon, June 26 – Sat, July 1, 2006.
Evenings: 7.45pm/Matinees Wed. & Sat: 2.30pm
Box Office: 0870 060 6651.