I’ll Be Back Before Midnight By Peter Colley. Classic Theatre Festival, directed by Laurel Smith
The big question surrounding I’ll Be Back Before Midnight is whether the audience is screaming with laughter or in terror as the packed story of this comedy/thriller unfolds.
Either way, playwright Peter Colley has been laughing all the way to the bank since Midnight premiered at the Blyth Festival in 1979. The play has been dubbed the most produced (and profitable) Canadian thriller in history.
The plot, jammed with bodies and ghost stories and seasoned with a suggestion of incest, may be more than a little unlikely. The isolated farmhouse where a fragile young woman is taken to recover from a nervous breakdown while she is surrounded by strange noises, odd bumps and voices in the stormy night — punctuated by power cuts, of course — may seem too much to swallow. (Complete with flint weapons, a shotgun and blood on the floor, the room makes the farmhouse in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho look positively homey.)
But, perhaps this is precisely Colley’s purpose. View Midnight as a send-up of the genre and it succeeds. With elements of such plays as Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight (on the list for the Classic Theatre Festival’s 2018 season), Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth and various mysteries by Agatha Christie and Hitchcock, Colley’s script unfolds with an underlying mockery — unless you prefer to take the damsel-in-distress tale seriously, always bearing in mind that paranoia may be truth if someone is out to get you.
Wisely, the CTF production, directed with her usual precision by Laurel Smith, plays it straight and allows audience members to decide for themselves. Set designer Roger Schultz delivers a set that is both serviceable and just creepy enough, as lighting designer Wesley McKenzie and sound designer Matthew Behrens lift the tension a couple of notches with lights that fail during noisy storms and music chosen to unsettle rather than calm the heroine’s troubled breast.
As Jan, just released from a four-month stay in a psychiatric ward, Lauren Horejda delivers a fine multi-faceted characterization that balances fragility and determination. As her husband, Greg, Lindsay Robinson has the somewhat unrewarding task of combining being the distracted academic with appearing supportive of his wife, while his sister undermines the marital relationship.
As Greg’s sister, Laura, Chandel Gambles portrays a forceful, unpleasant character that is not quite believable (mainly because of Colley’s script). Meanwhile, Alastair Love presents George, the alcoholic, farmer/landlord who lives next door, as jovial and misunderstood.
Together, director, crew and the well-integrated cast deliver a funny and even sometimes scary production that keeps audiences laughing and gasping.
The Classic Theatre Festival production of I’ll Be Back Before Midnight continues in Perth to September 10. (Matinees: Tuesday to Sunday, 2 p.m. Evenings: Wednesday and Saturday, 8 p.m.) – Iris Winston, Capital Critics Circle