Theatre Review: Father Brown

Thursday 10 August 2023
reading time: min, words

Classic thriller fun with the popular priest

Father Brown Resized 10

Father Brown – A Crime at Christmas, presents us with a play based on a character as comfortingly familiar as the summer rain we are currently experiencing.

G.K. Chesterton, the philosopher and poet, is most popularly known for his creation of Father Brown. The kindly Roman Catholic priest, come amateur detective, renowned for his wily wit and astute knowledge of human nature, familiar to many through the popular TV series.
We meet Father Brown at a Christmas House party where we are told by way of introduction that the thief is the Father Browns nemesis – the one who always gets away – someone who cleverly reimagines themselves to fit their crime to the victim.

Father Brown Resized 9

On this occasion, the crime being the theft of three priceless diamonds taken in the midst of a lively home-produced pantomime. Conveniently placed, our reassuring priest must deduce whether the thief is one of the guests, a late unexpected visitor or if the diamond has been stolen by the very person who gave the gift. All to be done before Father Brown misses his train back to London to say midnight mass.
This is a light-hearted unfeasible romp where even the unseasonal Christmas decorations appear to be in on the joke. Set in the 1930’s the characters sometimes sink into caricatures, and the plot raises questions, less about ‘who dunnit’ and more why Father Brown didn’t uncover a thief he had recognised before they even sat down for afternoon tea.

It is not a spoiler to say that he solves the mystery and the second act centres on a two-person dialogue between the thief and Father Brown which belies any notion of a play showing rather than telling. The thief’s conversion from criminality was nothing more than miraculous. 
Fortunately, this is a production which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Presented like a pantomime to friends, it invites the audience to enjoy its absurdities as you would the slapstick it draws upon. Father Brown played by John Lyons, will be familiar to many by his TV roles, specifically in A Touch of Frost and provided us with an affable observational eye on proceedings. The cast like the audience had a familial feel to it. 
Drawing a crowd to nearly fill the Theatre Royal on a Tuesday night The Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season at the Theatre Royal has a loyal following. Many come year after year, taking advantage of the price reduction, if you commit to all four shows. The actors and the audience are familiar, as are the variances between the plays. This won’t be the best of the four but I did catch myself wanting to clap, along with the cast, to some of the silliness of the pantomime.

The talk on the bus home, was centred on comparisons with the previous weeks play and anticipation of those yet to come. These plays come as a set, and if you fancy a taste this one runs to the 12 August followed by two more to take us to the end of the month.

Crime is clearly Nottingham’s summer season, as reliable as panto at Christmas and its juxtaposition working well in the entertaining absurdity of this show.

Father Brown – A Crime at Christmas plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal from Tuesday 8 August to Saturday 12 August 2023.

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