Benighted, Old Red Lion Theatre

When repressed middle class couple Mr Phillip and Mrs Margaret Waverton and their friend Roger get lost in rural Wales in a horrific downpour, they head to the nearest house for shelter. With the roads flooded and cars in the 1920s not what they are today, they are well and truly stranded until the waters recede. But the creaking edifice and its ancient hosts, brother and sister Horace and Rebecca Femm, are not as welcoming as they hoped. The world premiere of this adaptation of JB Priestley’s early novel spanning a single terrifying night is a fun, jumpy thriller executed with polish and conviction.

The design is a particular highlight. Gregor Donnelly makes an immediate impression with his cubic fireplace, uneven floor and wall of floating chairs – we know we’re entering a world that is far from the way it should be. Though the set shows detail and thought, it doesn’t dominate the small stage and provides the actors with distinct levels and playing areas. David Gregor further enhances the tension and fear with his excellently layered sound design that’s akin to a cinematic score – something rarely heard in small-scale theatre but contributes so much to small budget shows.

The cast of six form a polished ensemble, with Matt Maltby as Roger and Jessica Bay as showgirl Gladys particularly standing out. They all attack their heightened characters with energy and commitment – a pleasure to watch. There is also some solid multi-rolling from Ross Forder and Michael Sadler, though director Stephen Whitson has Forder play a woman rather than casting another woman and attempting to even out the gender disparity. 

Duncan Gates’ script is well formed, creating suspense with good effect. Whitson captures its rhythms with intuition, though a singular, stylised fight scene is out of place. Some of the transitions are slightly clumsy, but these will easily speed up after a few more performances. The play’s anti-war, pro-veteran agenda is slow burning but satisfying when revealed and unfortunately, one that is still relevant despite the time period.

Other than a few minor issues, there is little that detracts from the deliciously classic film vibe of Benighted. It’s a great story that is well executed and a welcome break from saccharine holiday theatre.

Benighted runs through 7 January.

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