A Most Pernicious Guest

By Marinell Haegelin

by N.J. Crisp at English Theatre with Philip Dart directing

 Sally, in the posh countryside home’s conservatory, anticipates her husband’s arrival soon. She is caught off-guard when a nicely dressed “friend” knocks at the door. John, it seems, is hell-bent on having a conversation. As they talk, with John proffering information prodding her memory – Torquay – it all comes back. Sally admits some confusion, and kindly listens; it transpires it’s really Mark that John wants to talk with. However, soon after Mark’s appearance it is chillingly clear that this is a dangerously obsessed person. The source of John’s cold rage is his wife’s tragic car accident some weeks prior. He begins dissecting, with calculated, well-timed precision the reason, i.e. blame, for the accident. He’s not above taking extreme measures to extract any underlying truths. The very well-off Driscolls are not in the habit of self-reflection, and, whereas John has had time to ruminate on clues he found, Mark and Sally are trapped unawares. Sally’s source of solace keeps her immune to what goes on around her, whereas Mark’s desperate to maintain equilibrium. Neither want to give their guest “just a little of your time.”

In N.J. Crisp’s prolific career as writer, screenwriter, novelist, and playwright, his spark was in depicting strong women, tough plots, and the ordeals and misfortunes people experience, oftentimes because of their own follies. Which Crisp’s 1987 psychological thriller, Dangerous Obsession, so richly demonstrates. The feature film version, Darkness Falls, 1999 starring Sherilyn Fenn, Ray Winstone, Tim Dutton by writer John Howlett, had key, unauthorized plot changes; Crisp was adamant his name be removed before the film was released. In 1959, Crisp was among the founders, and from 1968 to 1971 the Writer’s Guild’s chairman.


Both the plot of Dangerous Obsession, which is not fully apparent and appreciated until the very end, and the characters, whose foibles are understandable, and reprehensible, carries equal magnitude. Returning guest director Philip Dart (Candida 2015) moves the cast with chess-like precision, amplifying the tension. Dart’s decision to stick to the 1980s era is spot-on, as the play manifests that decade’s mindset. Our voyeur is a twisted soul, whose low self-opinion is rectified by his sure-footed wife: her business acumen, her personality – or so we’re told. Adam Lilley’s voice, posture—stiff and wound tighter than a spring—elicits our indulgence toward John. And, like it or not, a certain tolerance by the end of the day. An ETH veteran, Tom Rooke, compellingly plays out Mark’s opposing, if not glib, personality, and comeuppance. Primarily a comedic actor, Rooke finds the role challenging, and satisfying. Both actors appreciate the opportunity to “stretch” themselves. Also a veteran to ETH, Gabrielle Douglas’ challenge is balancing Sally’s natural duality: innocent, and realist. Which Douglas’ skilful timing and facial subtleties accomplishes. Mathias Wardeck’s set design is commendable. The crux of the affair is actions have consequences, and we all have choices that at some point anyone can be held hostage to. We can only wonder about this afternoon visit’s repercussions.


DANGEROUS OBSESSION, premiered April 28, 2016 and runs until June 25, 2016. The English Theatre’s 2016 | 2017 season kicks-off in September as they enter their 40th year. Evening and matinee performances; tickets available at the theatre or online: The English Theatre of Hamburg, Lerchenfeld 14, 22081 Hamburg, Tel: 040-227 70 89: U-Bahn Mundsburg.