Dangerous Corner

Dangerous Corner is Priestley’s first solo play and the first of his plays in which he exploits the theory that there are other forms of time, or Time, than the purely linear one.

The play is set in the drawing room of Freda and Robert Caplan’s country house. Present are Freda herself; Olwen Peel, Freda’s contemporary; Betty Whitehouse, a younger woman; and Maud Mockridge, a woman novelist. Dinner is over and the women are listening to the end of a wireless play, in which a gun is fired, a woman screams and there is the sound of a woman sobbing. A voice announces that they have just been listening to The Sleeping Dog by Humphrey Stoat. The women discuss the play and then move on to the suicide of Freda’s brother-in-law, Martin Caplan. At this point their menfolk join them. These are Charles Stanton; Gordon Whitehouse, Betty’s husband; and Robert Caplan. This last-named is the principal of the family publishing firm, Olwen is an executive of the firm and Gordon and Charles are partners. It is a cosy, seemingly relaxed group. The routine conversation continues. Then one of the women notices a musical cigarette box in the room and makes a fatal remark, fatal because it triggers a whole series of shocking revelations about the characters and their relationships with each other and with the dead Martin Caplan. They are shown to have turned a dangerous corner which has led to the truth – the sleeping dog – coming out. The action progresses to a climax, in which, as in the wireless play, a gun is fired, a woman screams, and the sound of sobbing is heard. The action then returns to the beginning of the play itself, complete with the end of the wireless play. The conversational exchanges are substantially as before. The same character as before notices the cigarette box. But this time the fatal remark is not made, the sleeping dog has been left undisturbed. The play ends in a whirl of exhuberant jollity.

Dangerous Corner may be little more than a box of clever theatrical tricks – Priestley himself thought so – but as an ensemble piece with some depth to the characterisation it has easily survived the decades since its first production, being constantly revived in both professional and amateur productions. Interestingly, there are references to drug addiction, bisexuality and even pornography, which, had the context not been so conventional, would have been quite startling for the play’s period.

A Hollywood film version of the play, much altered from the original, appeared in 1934. The excellent 1983 BBC television production is available on DVD; and, surprisingly, a (very lengthy but faithful) television version was made for Russian television in 1972.

The play itself is available from Oberon Books.

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