Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

trio cast

Abby Simpson as Sally, Adam Woodward as husband Mark and Rod Bissett as friend John

Dangerous Obsession

The Grange Playhouse


The F word! Not the one that has maiden aunts clutching for the smelling salts, no, that other F word, friends, the people we know, grew up with, met on holiday or, if you can remember anything about it, met on a drunken weekend.

Remembering him, indeed remembering the weekend at all . . . that’s the problem for the lady of the house Sally when John Barrett turns up out of the blue at the Driscoll’s top end of desirable residence. Not that remembering him should have been that difficult if we are honest, after all Barrett gives whole new meaning to the word weird.

First impressions as he arrives at the conservatory door, complete with cheery smile and brief case, is that he could be selling double glazing or policies for a dodgy insurance company, or, perhaps he might be a door to door missionary for a little known religious cult. His manner and strange way of phrasing words in his deliberate and somewhat precise way of speaking suggests a life of tedious pedantry and the innate ability to bore the bum off a rocking horse.

But then again, the likes of Barrett and his unusual traits are perhaps something the mind, in self-defence, might well endeavour to forget. No matter, friendly, cheery Barrrtt is not at all put out by being forgotten and he is more than happy to remind Sally of the weekend they met. Oh what fun that was . . .

And with a smile and a gin and tonic, just the one mind, our John is a slow drinker, the scene is cosily, if somewhat uneasily set to put in motion an unexpected psychological thriller.

When, a few minutes later, Sally’s husband Mark arrives home it is almost a reunion, just John’s wife is absent as they relive, or at least humour John, recounting a good(ish) time had, if not always remembered, by all – but if it is a desire by the Barretts, who it seems live only a few convenient miles away, to build on a rather fleeting friendship. why is John’s wife missing the reunon? And if there is another reason? . . . It is one we have still yet to discover - and if Mark has his way it will stay that way as he wants Barrett gone, out of his house as soon as possible.

john and mark

A Smith & Wesson does tend to have a point to make in any arguement

You see Mark is a successful, wealthy businessman, a someone in fact, in short he is everything Barratt is not, at least in his eyes. He sees Barrett as a boring little man who is merely trying a con, a pathetic attempt to borrow cash for some hare-brained scheme or other, and while Barrett is in the bathroom - his drink might be slow but travels fast it seems – he tells Sally to just “give him a drink and get rid of him.”

If only it were that straightforward . . . Rod Bissett is simply superb as Barrett, quietly, thoughtfully and precisely becoming more and more sinister minute by minute. Why he is really there is like seeing pieces slowly placed in a jigsaw puzzle, not always the right pieces in the right place, but, bit by bit the image emerges, until we finally have the complete picture – yet even that is not the picture we are finally given to take home.

With merely the suggestion of violence Bissett’s Barrett is almost apologetic at times as he explains “Regrettably a degree of fear is a necessary part of our conversation.”. His low key, forensic probing, pricking lies with throwaway facts pulled almost casually from his briefcase, allied to his matter of fact, conversational manner become quite chilling.

Adam Woodward’s Mark is confident, even arrogant at times, drinks martinis, the perceived tipple of the jet set, makes enough money and more to keep his wife in the designer label lifestyle she is accustomed to and sees himself as a cut above the likes of boring, little, ordinary people like, well, like Barrett.

He is polite, at least to a point, a little patronising, a little off-hand, even a hint of a sneer at times, before becoming rather tetchy and insulting as his patience wears thin at his obviously far more important my time being taken up by a little man he believes is amateurishly building up to try to con him out of his hard earned cash . . . funny how even self-styled business whiz kids can get it so wrong sometimes.

Abby Simpson’s Sally is very much a bystander in all this. Whatever the purpose of Barrett’s visit it is really between him and Mark, Sally is merely collateral damage. She remembers little about the weekend and her memory is vague on much else - a close friendship, from time to time, with a certain Mr Gordon and his celebrated tonic perhaps aiding her moments of amnesia. What we do discover is that far from providing her with a designer label, Audi TT lifestyle, husband Mark is simply tasked with maintaining the lifestyle she already had when she married him.

The idyllic lifestyle, the perfect couple with the equally perfect marriage? . . . Perhaps she has been living a lie for years.

And that is about as much as can be revealed. Writer N J Crisp with a huge catalogue of TV drama behind him from Dixon of Dock Green to Colditz, The Expert and The Brothers, ekes out the plot squeezing out layer after layer of detail to build up the tension, details arriving like the drips from a tap and the picture we and the Driscolls think we have built is . . . let’s just say not as accurate as we thought.

Director Chris Waters has paced the tension well, and along with Rob Onions, Joe Young and Sue Groves has created an excellent set of a large conservatory looking out on to an extensive lawned garden.

The first act is more to introduce the characters, set the scene, and, just so you don't get too comfortable, let us know all is not as at first it seemed with the final moment before the interval emphasising that point.

The second act sees what, if we were in court, would be a cross examination in the case for the prosecution. There are enough twists along the way to rival a corkscrew with a final twist that you would need to be clairvoyant to guess. We end, though, much as we started, Barrett in the garden, staring through the conservatory window – except this time instead of seeing a Sally living a seemingly comfortable life he just sees woman surrounded by the wreckage he has left behind. To 06-07-24

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate