Monday, December 6

The Cat and The Canary

- November 2, 2021

Last week I was feeling old watching a very new musical, but this week I feel young again. Why you may ask? Well The Cat and The Canary is such an old fashioned piece of theatre that even at 65 it seriously pre-dates me. Okay, Okay, so do Shakespeare, Wycherley, Congreve, Wilde… and so many more great playwrights but the key there is in the use of the word great. The same cannot be said of John Willard’s play, despite the publicity declaring that it was the inspiration for several great movies.

In this new production it falls apart from the very start, the effects are hackneyed, the set is vintage (not in a fashionably “vintage”sense) and the cast seem to not know whether they are playing the lines for drama or for laughs. Which is rather sad as the cast includes some very well known and experienced members.

Their performances are pretty straight forward, seldom convincing me that this was meant to be being delivered as a period piece with the clipped tones and mannerisms of the age, that age being a kind of generic past loosely set somewhere in the 1930s or was it the 40s or maybe even the 50s. And after the interval it felt like back stage they had all had a chat and decided that maybe they should be playing it for laughs – much of it was pretty laughable.

But this is where I suspect that the fault lies. The director has not grasped the nettle and played it in period, exploited the laughs and the weaknesses in the plot, of which there are many. Britt Ekland’s explanation of the riddle in verse is so lame that it almost passes unnoticed and the final denoument’s, yes plural, are delivered with all the drama of a Whitehall farce.

The saving grace came in the form of a very stylish performance from ex Coromation Street star Tracy Shaw who as benefactor Annabelle West drives some sense of theatre into the peice and from Marty Webb who added character, humour and comic timing.

Revivals of period pieces can be interesting, can be entertaining and can be worthwhile but only if the original is worthy of revival and the director has a sense of purpose – this one should have been left to rest in peace.

Andrew Kay

Theatre Royal Brighton

2 November

[rathing: 1/5]

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