Tuesday, April 23

The Cat and the Canary – Opera House

With Halloween upon us and the clocks going back at the weekend, our thoughts turn to entertainment of the scary variety, therefore an old-fashioned thriller set in a creepy house should be just what is required as the nights draw in. Unfortunately, the production of ‘The Cat and the Canary’ which began its week-long run at the Manchester Opera House this evening was a huge disappointment. As a thriller it wasn’t scary, as a comedy it wasn’t funny, and it wasn’t camp enough to be interesting as a pastiche of the genre.

Based on the 1921 play by John Willard and adapted by Carl Grose, the production wore its 100 years heavily, with the usual tropes that one would associate with a thriller of this vintage. Creepy old mansion – check; assortment of characters assembled and trapped against their will – check; escaped homicidal lunatic on the loose – check; inheritance as motive to murder – check. With wearisome predictability the family are gathered to discover which of them benefit from the will of the late Cyrus West, when the beneficiary is named as Anabelle West (Tracy Shaw), we know that she will be struggling to make the final act.

As the plot unwound, I was reminded of every wearisome Sunday night detective drama and bad ‘whodunnit’. This is not the fault of the original author but made me question why anyone bothers to revive such cliched and trite nonsense. The answer is that ‘The Classic Thriller Theatre Company’ is ‘presented by Bill Kenwright’. These four words that will dishearten even the most avid theatre fan, bringing a low level of expectation which unfortunately was met by the taped soundtrack, cheap special effects, and amateurish costuming. The reveal of ‘The Cat’ at the conclusion was so laughable I honestly expected a chorus of ‘Memory’, rather than being scared by a supernatural predatory murderer. Far more Grizabella than grisly!!

The direction by veteran actor Roy Marsden was confusing for both audience and cast, with some of the actors seemingly playing their roles in straight, dramatic fashion, whilst others affected camp hamminess that jarred horribly when not consistently employed. The denouement was rushed and bewildered the audience, with the actors seemingly relieved to quickly take their bows at the curtain. The lighting in the final scene was creepily realised by Chris Davey, candles being used to good effect, but there was a horrible pause in the action halfway through, as a clumsy scenery change dissipated any amount of tension that may have been building.

Kenwright has assembled his usual eclectic cast for the extensive tour that this show is undertaking, bringing together a collection of soap stars, comedians, and boy band emigres, adding them to familiar names from stage and screen with decidedly mixed results. So, we see Britt Ekland cast as the chilly housekeeper Mrs Pleasant, lacking any diction, her voice barely carried to the stalls in the cavernous Opera House; Anthony Costa (ex of Blue) surprising us with a nuanced performance as Paul; Gary Webster bringing geezer charm to his role as boxer Harry and Marti Webb with some funny lines but wasted in the minor role of Aunt Susan. Only Tracy Shaw as Annabelle came away from this production with any real credit, treading the boards only yards away from the set where she made her name in Coronation St, she engaged the audience and her fellow actors with style and craft. Rather like Manchester United at Old Trafford 24 hours earlier, this was a cast of individuals without a coherent plan, turning up on the night and expecting things to work out well. They didn’t.

Having been a fan of the 1939 film with Bob Hope, I attended expecting a modern reworking of a wry and spooky melodrama, instead I witnessed a hoary old piece that should be consigned to the past, its production as creaky and dilapidated as the old house in which this nonsense is staged.

The Cat and the Canary continues at Manchester Opera House until Saturday https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/opera-house-manchester/

Reviewer: Paul Wilcox

Reviewed: 25th October 2021

North West End UK Rating: