The Case of the Frightened Lady, New Theatre Royal, 29 Oct-3 Nov
Interview: Deborah Grant with Emma Beatty
The last time Deborah Grant was in a show in Portsmouth she was “running around the stage in her underwear with Joanna Lumley”, it was a 1972 Brian Rix farce at the New Theatre Royal. “It was the 70s, that’s just the way it was then,” she says. She was a classic 70s pinup with her blond hair and cut-glass accent. Grant remembers that Lumley introduced her to “proper curry” in Portsmouth for the first time. Lumley used her “enormous charm” to persuade a local curry house to send along a takeaway; well before such things were normal. This time around, Grant is playing Lady Lebanon, the snooty grand dame of classic 30s whodunit The Case of the Frightened Lady.
The story hinges on a previous murder in a country house. But, who’s the villain? This guessing game keeps the audience on their seats. “Many think it might be me,” says Grant. Lady Lebanon is a terrible snob and a “scary lady”. It’s played very straight though, Grant says, the period language and arch plot make some laugh too. It hovers delicately on the edge of knowing. It’s written by Agatha Christie’s contemporary, Edgar Wallace, who created the story of King Kong.
Fans of Lee Mack’s Not Going Out, will recognise Grant as his character’s Home Counties mother-in-law (with the long-running gag that he secretly used to fancy her). She’s due to start filming the 11th series of Not Going Out in a few weeks, including a live Christmas Special on 21st December.
For an actress in her early 70s, she still gets an impressive string of regular work, spanning high theatre, film and “endless medical dramas”. Home is Colchester in Essex, but she is used to the “hard work” of being on tour for months and staying in digs.
She is joined by an impressive ensemble, with many familiar TV faces: Scarlet Archer, from Emmerdale, is the young love interest; EastEnders suave John Partridge (who won this year’s Master Chef) is the sleuth; Robert Duncan, best known as the oily Gus Hedges in Drop The Dead Donkey is a house guest; alongside Philip Lowrie, Dennis Tanner in Coronation Street, as the butler.
As the clocks go back, and the dark nights draw it’s weirdly satisfying to settle down and watch such tales of violence and death—knowing you’re safe in the auditorium. Classic drama, can’t wait to see it.