REVIEW: Stars shine in The Case of the Frightened Lady

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Celebrity and crime make a thrilling combination in this week’s star-studded drama in Chesterfield.

Star-spotters are in their element at the Pomegranate Theatre where former Coronation Street and EastEnders actors Gray O’Brien, Rula Lenska and Charlie Clements are doing the business, backed up by The Royal’s Denis Lill and Soldier Soldier’s Ben Nealon.

An opportunity to see a host of familiar faces from the telly in a live setting was too good to miss for fans who were queueing around the block for last night’s first performance in town of The Case of the Frightened Lady.

The production is well worth the wait. It’s as tight as a drum, with quality acting, sharply drawn characters and a brain-taxing murder mystery which keeps the audience hooked throughout. Thunderclaps and gunshots are as much a shock as the discovery of a newly bumped-off body.

Played out amid the opulence of a stately home with its carved marble columns and archways, battle shields and an eye-catching chandelier, the setting is as grand as the performances.

Rula Lenska is every inch the aristocratic lady of the house, a widow who is stuck in a time warp. Her character, Lady Lebanon, is imperious, dismissive and anxious to guard her family’s honour and secrets - but at what cost?

Ben Nealon plays her son, a young lord who is more interested in horses than in the dead bodies found at his family’s stately pile. Denis Lill plays a philandering physician with an unshakeable hold on the aristocratic dynasty.

The opening scene is one of colour and jollity as Lady Lebanon hosts her annual fancy dress ball in which the servants have more fun than their master and mistress.

But the mood darkens when a blood-curdling scream from a frightened young secretary (played by Isla Crane) greets the discovery of the first victim of a mystery killer.

As the drama unfolds, there are more casualties and more pieces for the police to slot into the jigsaw. Gray O’Brien and Charlie Clements make a cracking double act as the intelligent investigators who pick up on clues and gossip among the house-keeping staff.

Who’s listening is a question that’s aimed as much at the audience as at the shady servants who appear from behind pillars as the sleuths steadfastly try to uncover the killer in their midst.

I didn’t guess who it was - can you?

The Case of the Frightened Lady, directed by Roy Marsden and presented by The Classic Thriller Theatre Company, is running at the Pomegranate until Saturday, March 3.