In recent times, the Garrick has become almost synonymous with JB Priestley. For nearly six years up until April 2001, the theatre was home to Stephen Daldry's multi award-winning production of Priestley's An Inspector Calls (reopened at the Playhouse). And now, after a brief interlude, it's clutching Priestley to its bosom once again.
This time it's the turn of the playwright's much earlier work, Dangerous Corner, coming via Leeds' West Yorkshire Playhouse. In many ways, this 1932 thriller shares much in common with Inspector, which Priestley wrote in 1946. A bunch of well-to-do's are gathered for a party when the spectre of a suspect death arises to implicate them all in a series of vicious revelations, truths and untruths.
Storyline aside, the young director Laurie Sansom also brings to mind the earlier production by borrowing some Daldryesque touches - the canned party laughter before curtain-up, for instance.
But there are also many significant departures. Rather than being set in Priestley's own time or earlier (Inspector takes place between the two world wars), Sansom makes the decision to thoroughly modernise proceedings. Thus, Jessica Curtis's country homestead of party hosts Freda and Robert Caplan is anything but cosily twee. Instead, it's all slimline white sofas, blonde wood, strip lighting and glass walls that look out onto an ominous forest of towering trees. And it contains characters who've abandoned 1930s-style cut-glass accents and ennui for Gucci suits, stiletto heels and small bags of white powder.
These are the Beautiful People. All connected to a nepotistic publishing company, they are wealthy, successful and sickeningly attractive. On the surface anyway. The collected ensemble turn in assured performances, gradually allowing their characters' masks to slip, as the evening and the accusations progress, to reveal festering sores.
Especially impressive are Rupert Penry-Jones as the strident Robert whose illusions collapse in stumbling drunkenness, Dervla Kirwan as his besotted friend Olwen, touchingly struggling to rein in her emotions, and newcomer Anna Wilson-Jones, not quite the girlish picture of innocence she seems. The only dud performance note is sounded by Jacqueline Pearce, as ego-inflated novelist Maud who is so grotesque it's hard to decide whether Pearce's acting is extraordinarily good or extraordinarily bad.
The main problem with this Dangerous Corner comes back to Priestley. Despite the company's efforts, the script forces them into occasional melodrama, uttering groan-worthy lines such as "It's quite simple really", "Yes, it's true" and "Of course, I've known for some time", which pop up repeatedly. How much better it could have worked if Sansom had been allowed to modernise the language as much as the set, excising anachronisms and toning it down to suit the palate of today's audience.
Still, for the most part, Sansom's updating works a charm. This Priestley offering is sleek, sexy, spooky and highly charged.