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The Cat and the Canary - Review

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by Tony Collins (subscribe)
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The cat has got the cream in star-filled stage whodunit
The classic murder mystery 'whodunit' synonymous with the likes of Agatha Christie has been doing the rounds for a century or more. But few novels or plays can have mastered the genre more than John Willard's period masterpiece, The Cat and the Canary. All the spine-tingling ingredients are there in Willard's creation, which first appeared on Broadway in 1922 and has since undergone various theatrical as well as film adaptations. We have a seemingly haunted and crumbling old house on the edge of an isolated moor, with several would-be heirs about to learn if they have inherited the valuable estate during the reading of the will, at midnight, in the midst of a thunderstorm! What could possibly go wrong?

The Cat and the Canary
The would-be heirs arrive in The Cat and the Canary. Credit Paul Coltas

This new production of The Cat and the Canary, presented by Bill Kenwright's Classic Thriller Theatre Company and freshly adapted by Carl Grose, maintains all the classic ingredients, which also include a homicidal maniac seemingly escaped from a nearby asylum, failing lights and things that go bump in the night, a missing heirloom, and a family trait of madness. If there is one criticism, it is that there are almost too many spooky elements to take in throughout one story-line. But, then again, the play does have its origins almost a century ago. Maybe, as a result of the above, the show, which is currently being performed at the Lichfield Garrick theatre until Saturday 14 March, is occasionally played for laughs.

The Cat and the Canary, Britt Ekland, Tracy Shaw
Britt Ekland and Tracy Shaw excel in the classic whodunit. Credit Paul Coltas

The Cat and The Canary, splendidly directed by Roy Marsden, is set exactly 20 years after the death of eccentric psycho-analyst Cyrus West, who left instructions for his will-reading to be delayed so as to benefit the 'next generation' of his relatives. When the identity of the heir is revealed on a scratchy gramophone recording it comes with a caveat - that he or she must prove they are mentally capable of running the estate, otherwise the fortune, including a priceless missing necklace, passes to someone else. It won't give the game away to reveal that this provides an opportunity for one or more of the disgruntled non-beneficiaries to set about driving the named heir insane and getting their own hands on the house and loot.

The Cat and the Canary
A dramatic scene from the new stage adaptation of The Cat and the Canary. Credit Paul Coltas

An exceptional cast is headed by glamorous former Coronation Street actress Tracy Shaw, who is outstanding as successful author Annabelle West, and ex-screen idol Britt Ekland as the housekeeper Mrs Pleasant, who maintains a creepy dialogue with the house's ghosts throughout, including the long-deceased Cyrus. Other superb contributions include West End leading lady Marti Webb, who excels in a straight acting role as hopeful heir Susan Sillsby, and equally expectant 'cousins' Gary Webster (Family Affairs and Minder) as tough guy Harry, Ben Nealon (Soldier Soldier) as Charlie, Mark Jordon (Heartbeat) as the seemingly bumbling Paul, and Nikki Patel (Coronation Street) as Susan's niece Cicily, who also claims to be an Indian princess. There is also a splendid performance by long-standing television and theatre actor Eric Carte as the late Mr West's solicitor Roger Crosby, who clearly has his suspicions when he discovers that the lock on the sealed will has been broken and repaired.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Cat and the Canary, Gary Webster, Tracy Shaw
'Cousins' Gary Webster and Tracy Shaw debate Cyrus West's will. Credit Paul Coltas

The Cat and the Canary can be seen at the Lichfield Garrick until March 14. Tickets priced from 25.50 are available by visiting or by calling the box office on 01543 412121.
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Why? The stars come out for classic thriller live on stage
When: March 9 to 14
Phone: 01543 412121
Where: Lichfield Garrick, Castle Dyke, Lichfield WS13 6HR
Cost: Tickets from 25.50
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