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The Cat and the Canary

The Cat and the Canary is considered a classic comedy thriller, and although written a century ago it is still out there trying to hold its own in that genre, writes Michael Holland.

Written by John Willard, adapted by Carl Grose and directed by Roy Marsden for Bill Kenwright’s Classic Thriller Theatre Company, it includes a host of well-known faces from TV and stage. 

The Cat and the Canary is set in an old mansion with only the housekeeper of the deceased Cyrus West living there for the past 20 years since his death. Now, six distant relatives and the lawyer are there for the reading of the will and testament, which itself has been hidden away for two decades. Or has it?

A motley crew arrive that range from all walks of life, bringing the usual family rows with them, plus the token Cockney with no social graces.

The housekeeper (Britt Ekland) talks to ‘ghosts’ a lot and tells the guests The Evil will get them. Charlie (Ben Nealon) and Harry (Gary Webster) despise each other but both love the very rich Annabelle (Tracy Shaw), while Paul (Anthony Costa) begins as a bumbling buffoon until he too emerges from his clumsy persona and declares his love for Annabelle. So the quest for working out who the baddie is starts right there in Act I. Throw in an escaped lunatic from the local asylum and, with the thunder and lightning adding effect, you’ve got all you need for a night of murderous fun. My money is on the housekeeper.

At midnight the will is read and everything goes to Annabelle, unless it can be shown that she is of unsound mind. Cue lunatics, ghosts and everyone else who wants the riches she now has.

There have been three film versions, with the Bob Hope one being a childhood favourite of mine, but because this adaptation is played quite straight the comedy came across as errors that left the audience not knowing whether they should laugh or not. Except, of course, the hilarious barbed comments from Aunt Susan (Marti Webb), who had promptly turned to drink once she knew she was inheriting nothing. And when the escaped lunatic made his first appearance, what should have been part of the horror became part of the joke. The comedy could be funnier and the scary bits scarier, but overall the cast provided a night’s entertainment.

Some scares, though, did come in the form of loud thunderclaps that had me jumping and spilling red wine every now and again, which made my companion laugh, so there was another comedy thriller going on in Row P as well as on the stage.

Churchill Theatre, High Street, Bromley, BR1 1HA until 13th November. Times: 7.30pm; Thursday & Saturday matinee 2.30pm. Admission:  £16 – £40.

Booking: 0343 310 0020 – https://churchilltheatre.co.uk/

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