It’s been eight years since Ian Richardson was seen in the West End – and that’s about eight years too long. Now at the Playhouse this consummate veteran retakes the stage as if, like his aristocratic character in The Creeper, to the manor born.

Early on in proceedings, Richardson’s Edward Kimberley, an old queen who hires a series of young male companions to idle away the time on his country estate, instructs his new stiff-collared hireling in the art of letting loose. You feel as if he could as well be giving a masterclass in stage acting, so at ease does he appear on the stage – and that really is quite a feat considering the material with which he has to work.

Aside from Richardson’s performance, there is nothing the least bit thrilling about Pauline Macaulay’s so-called psychological thriller. It’s obvious from the get-go that Edward’s new companion is unhinged and that things are going to end badly, as indeed they do – in a truly ridiculous final moment – with nary a twist nor turn and precious little psychological delving in between. In case any member of the audience had any doubts, a strangling incident involving a balloon and repeated allusions to the creeper in the garden which, while beautiful, is killing the ancient tree it climbs, put paid to those.

The real crime is that anyone decided this was worth reviving. Still, you can’t help but admire the efforts of those engaged in making the best of a bad job, and that’s pretty much all concerned. Bill Bryden’s direction is solid, Hayden Griffin’s drawing room set and period tailoring attractive.

Amongst the others in the cast, Alan Cox camps it up to pleasing comic effect as Michel, the disgruntled previous companion whose dismissal, and attachment to a transistor radio, makes way for the trouble that follows. Meanwhile, Oliver Dimsdale as the jealous new arrival and Harry Towb as the discreetly long-serving manservant of the house do the best they can with Macaulay’s scant characterisations.

But why oh why couldn’t all of their efforts been concentrated on something more worthwhile? A real wasted opportunity. Nevertheless, I can’t stop myself from recommending that you do indeed rush out and buy a ticket to The Creeper. It’s worth it if only for the chance to witness the septuagenarian Ian Richardson doing what he does best: commanding the stage. Unless an astute producer signs him up now to give us his Lear, who knows if and when you may get another chance.

- Terri Paddock