cat cast

The Cat and The Canary

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


This was my first long-awaited trip to the theatre for a while and I was looking forward to a good old fashioned whodunnit! And of course, my star struck self… very excited to see the legendary, Britt Ekland.

Surprisingly I had never seen The Cat and the Canary before – either in any of its film or stage versions, so I had no idea what to expect and of course, whodunit.

Sitting in the auditorium, full of anticipation helped by the mood making music and a rather robust air conditioner, all helped to create a very chilling (literally) atmosphere.

The curtains drew back to reveal a grand, oak panelled drawing room, set inside a gothic style manor, with doors off to a huge hallway, staircase and front door. A large imposing portrait of the house’s late owner, Cyrus West, hung over the mantlepiece with a wall lined bookcase and the obligatory drinks tray in the corner of the room. The suspense level was increased with a haunting soundtrack of a girl’s voice singing a nursery rhyme about a cat and a canary.

However, relying on some technology to create an atmosphere can have its hiccups. When we first meet the ironically named, grey clad, Mrs Pleasant (Britt Ekland – but not as you have ever seen her before), the old retainer and housekeeper of Glenthorn Manor and the solicitor Roger Crosby (Eric Carte), preparing to meet Cyrus’s relatives and read the contents of his 20 year old will, their initial conversation is shrouded in mist, billowing from an over-zealous dry ice machine, which swept across the stage and auditorium, trying to convey to us, the audience, of our sinister Bodmin Moor location. Perhaps this could have been a little more subtle.

 One by one, we meet the six West clan, all related in different ways to Cyrus West, as they descend on the isolated Devonshire manor, awaiting the news of their possible inheritance. But no-one is quite as they seem - they wouldn’t be … would they?

Harry Blythe, an ex boxer and a jovial cockney ‘fella’, played convincingly by Gary Webster, has an inevitable dark side to him as we see in a bout of fisticuffs with his cousin, Charles Wilder (Ben Nealon), the debonair seemingly successful thespian. Paul Jones’s (Anthony Costa) Mr Bean-like entrance as the apparently affable, equine loving vet completed the trio of male hopeful heirs.

cat fight

Gary Webster's Harry Blythe and Charles Wilder, played by Ben Nealon, have a . .  difference of opinion. Pictures: Paul Coltas

The equally strong female contingency of heir apparents consisted of the young, beautiful and slightly mysterious Cicely Young (Priyasasha Kumari), her aunt, the teetotal Mrs Susan Sillsby, and Miss Annabelle West. Marti Webb’s expertly understated character of Mrs Sillsby is brilliantly acted.

Her comic timing and one line delivery is spot on! Mrs Sillsby’s abstinence is abandoned as the play continues and her visits to the drinks tray get ever more increasing and wobbly.

Annabelle West (Tracey Shaw) appeared strong and independent but revealed a much more vulnerable side to her as the action continued. Sadly, the character who is the least memorable is the niece, the Indian Princess. Her part could have been more effective and developed. (Perhaps this is just representative of the era that the play was first written.)

The revealing of the will ruffled a few feathers… and the CAT was firmly put among the pigeons when a stranger burst in to announce that an inmate of the local ‘asylum’ had escaped, making more feathers fly and speculation rife.

The constant ticking of a clock, flickering lights and unexpected movements conveyed a malevolent presence as the curtains came down on Act 1.

This was a play of two parts. The initial build up was slow to get started and at first the audience weren’t sure just whether some of the gaffs and reactions were meant or tongue in cheek. Undercurrent giggles were starting to emerge … and the person in front of me whispered to her companion – ‘Should we be laughing?’.

britt and cicely

Britt Ekland as Mrs Pleasant and Priyasasha Kumari as Cicely.


After the interval – the answer was ‘yes’ as the plot and the audience warmed up.

The audience went with it and felt allowed to laugh and even guffaw as well as gasp and groan. Britt Ekland’s performance highlighted this… her portrayal of the ever faithful and devoted Housekeeper, was a cross between Mrs Overall and Mrs Danvers, delivered I suspect (or hope) with a twinkle in her eye! Her chilling yet comedic pronouncements of ‘Evil’, ‘Evil’ made me think of Dad’s Army and ‘We’re doomed’.

Act Two opened in Annabelle’s bedroom, revealing a huge four poster bed with a tapestry behind and wall to wall pictures of eyes! And Annabelle sporting a beautiful pair of blue silk pyjamas! More of the relationships and connections started to reveal themselves as the plot twisted, drawing the audience in more building towards the final denouement.

I am very pleased to say that the ending was unexpected, and I hadn’t guessed it correctly and I suspect neither did the audience as their interaction of NOOOs and OHHHs demonstrated with the final reveal.

The Cat and the Canary did indeed do what it said on the tin… it was a ‘classic’ thriller. It was nostalgic, there were no special effects (except the mist), it had a certain charm - laced with equal measures of melodrama and humour. It allowed us, the audience to suspend our disbelief and I did just that. For two and a half hours, I was not quite on the edge of my seat but nearly there. Just wish I had brought an extra layer…

Directed by Roy Marsden the cat will be stalking the canary in this The Classic Thriller Theatre Company production to 09-10-21.

Liz Leck


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