Theatre Review – Father Brown and the Curse of the Invisible Man

Father Brown and the Curse of the Invisible Man

Nottingham Theatre Royal

Tuesday 9 August – Saturday 13 August 2016

In a change of pace from the usual topics of posting – on Friday night my partner and I were tempted to pay the Nottingham Theatre Royal a visit for their annual ‘Classic Thriller’ season. Attending on the third week, they were performing ‘Father Brown and the Curse of the Invisible Man’ – a bespoke play which has been doing the rounds for the past year or so, which is developed from some of G.K. Chesterton’s original Father Brown stories.

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Shamefully, although familiar with the name and character – in essence, a Priest who solves mysteries in his spare time – I’m entirely unfamiliar with any of the original stories themselves. Following this performance, not to mention my love of the Sherlock Holmes stories, of which the Father Brown stories share the same era), I may have to remedy this…

The play is kept relatively bare-bones, made up of very few settings (Father Browne’s vestry, a fancy country manor, and an artist’s office), and equally few characters – there are just four in all (the £3 programme lists five, but then I don’t think a dead body by itself counts …) Despite these apparent challenges, the play moves along steadily and doesn’t get too bogged down in its own limitations. Set in February 1906, the story revolves around the theft of a valuable dagger from a wealthy family’s home, ostensibly by a man who had posed as the lover of the young lady of the household. Much backstory is given to the audience by the young lady in question’s aunt, who was herself involved in the quest for the dagger and its four companion pieces, one of which remains in her possession, while two  were stolen under mysterious circumstances in which their owners were presumed murdered (bodies never found), and one final dagger which remains missing. Father Brown is consulted when a note is received from the young man who had stolen the original dagger, demanding to receive the final dagger in their possession or else face grave consequences. This leads Brown into a case involving murder, madness and greed – ending up in a dramatic and perhaps inevitable outcome. To say too much would of course ruin the fun of attending, but safe to say it’s a satisfying enough plot and there are certainly some surprises to be had.

The Nottingham performance starred John Lyons (known for his work in TV’s A Touch of Frost) as the titular character. Donning a thick grey moustache and a plain black cassock, he plays Father Brown as a slightly eccentric older man with a warm heart (the word ‘fuddy’ srings to mind) – very much a sort of cuddly old grandfather. He was certainly the standout performer (although that’s not necessarily difficult in a cast of four), however the remaining cast members – John Goodrum, Karen Henson and Anna Mitcham – acted well alongside him in their respective roles – even if Goodrum’s performance does descend a little into ham-territory on occasion. It’s a good thing, too – as the play is very much dialogue-centred and there is minimal use of props or stage effects. As is to be expected from a story of this nature, the focus is of course on the final scenes and the grand revelations explaining the mystery driving the plot. Fortunately, the pay-off here was worth it.

It’s a standard two-hour affair, very much the sort of mystery that one might describe as ‘cosy’ – for those inclined towards the Conan Doyles and Agatha Christies of fiction (not to mention the G.K. Chestertons), then this play won’t disappoint.

For those who may be interested, the fourth and final play in the Theatre Royal’s thriller season – entitled ‘Mindgame’ runs from Tuesday 16 – Saturday 20 August. https://trch.co.uk/whats-on/mindgame/

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