Theatre Review






Show Don’t Tell

Dangerous Corner

Pacific Playhouse

13 - 31 May, 2008







A review by Mags Gaisford for EXTRA! EXTRA!


At Freda and Robert Caplan’s party, everything is in its rightful place. After - dinner drinks are flowing. The men are in the other room, ‘probably laughing at something improper’, while the ladies lounge elegantly and listen to the wireless. The chit-chat is witty and polite. Sleeping dogs are lying...

...and then we catch the end of a radio play called ‘The Sleeping Dog’. In their casual discussion of the message of this drama (it is described as ‘something about a lot of lies and a gentleman shooting himself’), Miss Mockridge: novelist, gossip and outsider to the ‘snug little group’: senses an uncanny parallel to their reality.

A self - consciously noncommittal, but heavily loaded, conversation about whether the truth can or should be known, together with Mockridge’s talent for sniffing out scandal like a charming bloodhound (‘oh - have I dropped a brick? I always am dropping bricks.’)  suggests uncomfortable truths on the horizon.

In an effort to cause a diversion, Freda Caplan offers her guests cigarettes from a box: an action she will live to regret, for the mystery surrounding the owner of this box is at the heart of the buried story.  The close - knit friendship of the ‘set’ begins to unravel at a rate of knots, revealing itself to be founded on innumerable secrets and repressed desires, as each character in turn presents his or her case.

Upon realising that his version of events surrounding the alleged suicide of his brother, Martin, is false, Robert Caplan becomes set on determining the real events of that fateful ‘Saturday in June’. It becomes apparent that Martin, in life, was a Byronic, compelling, Delphic character and the embodiment of taboo: meddling with drugs in ‘devilish gaiety’. In death, he is the elephant in the room: his absence burns a hole in the script of wisecracks and witticisms.

The dialogue is highly entertaining: often dripping in sarcasm of a peculiarly English kind, with masterful understatements, cutting jibes and elegant banalities: ‘you must have all noticed I’ve gone completely off country cottages.’ The piquant insights scattered throughout reveal glimpses of the twisted roots and molten lava lying beneath this jovial veneer. As the plot twists and turns, our attempts to fit each character’s perspective into the puzzle are persistently thwarted by new revelations, until we are inclined to agree with the delightfully sombre Olwen Peel (Brigid Lohrey), who says

‘The real truth is so deep it can’t be got at like this. All this half - truth just blows everything up - it isn’t civilised.’

We are led to question whether art doesn’t just ‘blow everything up’. Miss Mockridge, the writer, stirs up the scandal only to retire early, rather stunned by the gravity of the situation: perhaps having taken enough material for a fiction of her own. In a similar way, the ambiguous ending of the play denies us any fixed resolution, and hints at undermining the very events we have seen.

‘Show Don’t Tell’ follows the improvisational methods of Viola Spolin, whose teaching prioritises the ‘artistic group relationship’. My fear of audience participation was unfounded, as the implications of this were much subtler. The simplicity and intimacy of Pacific Playhouse as a venue lends itself to the open, yet intimate atmosphere. In the audience, you feel more like an extension of events than a critical onlooker. Toilets are backstage, which necessitates walking through the set. This tempts you to do your own Miss Mockridge - style detective work: or, indeed, to begin asking the audience some prying questions.

When not involved directly in the conversation, each character maintains a statuesque pose: thoroughly tuned in to events, yet somehow remaining in graceful seclusion. The cleverly - spaced set enhances the physical isolation of each character: Olwen sits awkwardly in the hot - seat, while Charles Stanton leans sheepishly on the fireplace:  giving them an air of suspects in a Cluedo drama, or an Edward Gorey illustration.

Pascal Sirletti’s musical cues and Cassandra Watters’s intelligent use of stasis, together with the resistance of each of the 6 - man cast to lapse into caricature, allows a knowing flirtation with melodrama that does Priestley proud. Martin Durrant’s wonderfully wry Charles Stanton remarks at one point ‘don’t talk like a man in a melodrama, Caplan’. Wendy Albiston’s stern and earthy Freda Caplan fiercely guards the drinks cabinet. Brigid Lohrey plays Olwen Speel, the spinster holding on to some semblance of feminine charm, with great sensitivity. 

The cast, fittingly, becomes an increasingly cohesive group as the characters discard their pretences. Lucy Grainger’s pretty, cosseted Betty Whitehouse is the last to strip herself of her stereotype. Grainger managed to inject a lot of pathos into this predictable moment. There were times when Robert Caplan (Ben de Halpert)’s blundering innocence could have been slightly toned down. On the whole, though, the cast inhabit their roles as perfectly as design duo ‘Deviant Stem’’s evening attire fit their bodies.

I left marvelling at peoples’ ability to repress desires, preferring to live in a world of illusions, nagging guilt, insoluble mysteries and small talk. I’m sure Miss Mockridge - and perhaps Priestley himself - would agree how much more fun it is to turf up all the grit. Let sleeping dogs lie? No! Let’s prod them awake and have them yapping furiously.





07948 251 972


tickets: £11/£8 concessions

Pacific Playhouse
5-6 Playhouse Court,
62 Southwark Bridge Road,




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