Durbridge tale with harder edge

WE’RE back in Francis Durbridge territory for the second offering in the Classic Thriller season at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham.

And although this is vintage Durbridge – suspense, mystery and murder, with plot twists and red herrings as befits the master craftsman who created Paul Temple – it has a harder and more contemporary edge to some offerings of this genre.

Terrorism and hijacking are close at hand and it gets away to an interesting start on board a flight from Australia as hotelier Carl Houston (an excellent Nicholas Briggs) is distracted from his reading by fellow-passenger Ronnie Sheldon (Chris Sheridan).

That’s when it becomes life-changing, with an attempted hijack, Carl saving Ronnie’s life, a lot of talk about a toy koala bear and, back home, goings-on that you would never associate with Carl’s Orchard Hotel, near Chichester.

It wouldn’t be the thriller season without a visit from a police inspector and here John Hester’s George Westwood adds yet more colour to the team’s rich and varied collection of such incumbents over the years. Ronnie’s return with a warning that Carl and his wife Vanessa (nicely played by Karen Henson) are in danger adds to the intrigue.

Meanwhile there are frequent telephone calls from the bank manager - the hotel isn’t doing very well – and a high-class but somewhat dodgy chef (Jeremy Lloyd Thomas) who is seeking to go out on his own and resorts to attempted blackmail to raise the cash. Not least is Houston’s secretary Ruth, Jo Castleton making the most of a relatively small part and gladding male eyes with red tights, high heels and tight black dresses.

Then there is Carl’s millionaire cousin Oliver Radford (Adrian Lloyd-James) and a family friend Millie (Susan Earnshaw). It’s all beautifully done and there are any number of paths down red herring alleys before all is revealed, with not a koala bear in sight.

Patric Kearns directs in what is another evening of fun and mystery which ranks among the best in this enjoyable series.