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The Cat and the Canary at Theatre Royal Brighton

John Willard’s melodrama, in fact, more a ‘comedy-thriller’, was first staged on Broadway in 1922, spawning at least four film adaptations. The story concerns the death and inheritance of wealthy eccentric Cyrus West who felt that his relatives “have watched my wealth as if they were cats… and I a canary”. Twenty years on his descendants gather to learn who will inherit his estate.

Ben Nealon (Charlie) and Tracy Shaw (Annabelle) - The Cat And The Canary - UK Tour - Photo By Paul Coltas.
Ben Nealon (Charlie) and Tracy Shaw (Annabelle) – The Cat And The Canary – UK Tour – Photo By Paul Coltas.

There is ingratiating Charlie Wilder, a beautifully smarmy performance by Ben Nealon, hard Harry Blythe (originally acted by the author), delightfully overplayed in just the right style by Gary Webster, ditherer vet Paul Jones: Antony Costa doing just what the role requires, not-so-nice Susan Silsby played by Marti Webb, heroine author Annabelle West – Tracy Shaw looking stunningly glamorous – and ‘nice’ Cicily Silsby, in the hands of Priyasasha Kumari. Roger Crosby, West’s solicitor, was given a magnificently ‘stagey’ portrayal by Eric Carte, really relishing the many melodramatic moments of the play.

Old housekeeper Mrs Pleasant was in the hands of Britt Ekland, giving a much larger than life performance which suited the style chosen by director Roy Marsden very well, even if at times her enunciation could have been clearer.

The most effective moments in the play were in the third act where there was often terrific pace and energy building up to the various climaxes.

If you have come across this play before you may be slightly shocked to discover that it has been adapted to an English setting (Glenthorne Manor on Bodmin Moor) and updated to the 1950s by Carl Grose, but the plot is still roughly the same! However, this does give the opportunity for a magnificent Country House set designed by Takis – the transformation from a master bedroom to a library in a couple of minutes between the last two acts is masterly, especially in a production designed for touring. Chris Davey is responsible for some effective mood lighting and Dan Samson is the busy sound designer, both adding to the atmosphere which is well caught by all concerned, even if, occasionally, line cues were slow.

The production is visiting the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, as well as Leeds Grand this month and, is well worth catching: one of those plays which many have heard of but few have seen. Be prepared to be scared!!!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Following its acclaimed opening in Windsor in January 2020 and highly successful spring tour, the production returns to complete its Autumn tour, which was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Twenty years after the death of Mr. West, his descendants gather to learn who will inherit his vast wealth and the hidden family jewels. Within moments, the heritage hunters turn into prey. Walls crack open, shadows loom, and dark secrets are revealed.

Who is The Cat? His movements soundless, unnoticeable, and his vengeance swift! Who will feel his horrible grasp next?

By John Willard
Adapted by Carl Grose
Directed by Roy Marsden
Designed by takis
Lighting Design by Chris Davey
Sound Design by Dan Samson
Produced by Bill Kenwright

The Cat and the Canary
Book Tickets for Theatre Royal Brighton
Tue 2 Nov – Sat 6 Nov 2021


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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