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Benighted by JB Priestley at The Old Red Lion Theatre, London

“...moody lighting simply isn’t enough.”

As soon as lightning flashes and thunder roars, the scene is set for a dark and stormy night chiller. The characters are thrown into a creepy house in darkest Wales for the night.

With a running time of 1hr20, this should be a tense and nervous time, but sadly, atmosphere is the major thing lacking in this production. Adapted by Duncan Gates from an early Priestley book, I feel the play is trying too hard to be a ghost story, a period pastiche and a tongue-in-cheek comedy. Each genre fights with the other and there is no clear winner.

[Tom Machell and Harrie Hayes]

The cast of six actors, although earnestly telling us the story, look as out of kilter as the incredible set, designed by Gregor Donnelly, which at times, along with the sound design, manages to upstage the thin, hole-filled story.

Priestley wrote many successful plays (An Inspector Calls, Time And The Conways, When We Are Married) and I do wonder if he would have tried to adapt this particular story for the stage. It is thick in character detail but thin on plot, with Gates struggling to keep the action moving along between the speeches.

[Matt Maltby and Jessica Bay]

There are moments when the play suddenly sparks to life, showing there is a promising production somewhere underneath the indecision. Should Stephen Whitson’s direction take the play into The 39 Steps territory? Perhaps not. Priestley is darker than that. And deeper, too.

The title implies a state of ignorance and darkness. Maybe the producers could be braver and actually take us deeper into that very darkness that Priestley writes about. The moody lighting simply isn’t enough.

Benighted runs at The Old Red Lion, 418 St Johns Street, London EC1V 4NJ

until Saturday 7th January 2017: Tuesday-Saturday at 7.30pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm.

Twitter: @BenightedPlay, @ORLTheatre

Book tickets on online or by calling 0844 412 4307: £19.50 (£17.50 concessions).

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