The Case of the Frightened Lady

'Keith Singleton as Wallace is a sort of dashing weasel, reminiscent of Basil Fawlty'

I say, I say, I say, old chap, what’s the first rule of being a detective?
Cultivation of a symmetrical moustache, of course.

Do you like backgammon?
My wife never serves it.

The laughs in Bruiser’s latest production The Case of the Frightened Lady tend to be quickly followed by I-can’t-believe-I-laughed-at-that groans.

The year is 1932 and thriller writer Edgar Wallace has a weekend to produce a new who-dunnit. He gets his wife, gardener, butler and new secretary literally in on the act, creating the book’s murderous plotline and a myriad of characters, from Inspector Tanner and DS Totty of the Yard to Lady Lebanon and her butch Welsh housekeeper Gilda.

This is a typical Bruiser production – spot on physical theatre, interspersed with song, well-timed slapstick and a sprinkling of knob jokes. The set is really a collection of props, from hats to firearms, taken on and off, whirled hither and thither, to great effect. A lamp becomes a microphone, a candlestick a beer pump, a dressing screen an upright bed. It’s clever, fast and frenetic.

The cast are top hole. Keith Singleton as Wallace is a sort of dashing weasel, reminiscent of Basil Fawlty. Angie Waller’s Lady Lebanon has something of Sybil about her too, with a voice that could strip handmade wallpaper at twenty paces. All good fun.

But, and it’s a terribly big but, Bill Scott’s play is flimsy, over long and ultimately rather pointless. A mild farce, which hints at bigger ideas – how a writer is essentially a user of other people, for example – but never explores them. Where fact and fantasy meet is fascinating territory and a smarter play would have dug deeper. Scott’s ‘real’ characters, however, are just as much stereotypes as the ones they create.

Bruiser’s previous production Candide was similarly frantic, had the same silly accents and constant mugging, but the style fitted superbly with Voltaire’s satire and behind it all, if you were interested, loomed big philosophical questions.

In The Case of the Frightened Lady the manic pace and near hysteria eventually begins to grate. Foot to the floor all the way, makes for a much less interesting ride.

David Lewis