STAGE REVIEW: The Cat and The Canary at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Monday, February 17 to, Saturday, February 22, 2020.

CREEPILY and creakingly this captivating offering from the illustrious Bill Kenwright stable delivered a captivating and spell-binding tale.

Although many of Worcestershire’s roads were affected by floods, which had a knock-on effect in audience numbers who gallantly made their way to the theatre, the enthusiastic response from an auditorium just over half-full was fully reciprocated by a polished cast which rose above the floodwaters surrounding many areas in the locality.

Kenwright knows the theatrical game inside out and when he puts his mark on a production you can be pretty damn sure it’s going to be a winner.

This is the case here with a quality cast and a gripping yarn which has as many twists and turns as the hidden passageways and secret doors of Glenthorne Manor in the heart of Bodmin Moor.

There were enough to make your head go dizzy as the mind flitted from one character to another as the likely perpetrator. Not so much a whodunnit as a did they do it?

Through his Classic Thriller Theatre Company Kenwright has shown the knack of providing the paying customer with what they like and here this latest adaptation of John Willard’s work ticks all the boxes.

Cat and Canary first appeared on Broadway back in 1922 and just over 100 years later this new version sticks largely with the winning formula. Why dabble too much?

The tale unfolds 20 years after the death of Mr West - wealthy psychoanalyst - and a rather large inheritance which has been left to be claimed.

Under his instructions his descendants, some plain greedy, arrive at the remote mansion.

They are welcomed by Mrs Pleasant (Britt Ekland), the housekeeper of many years, and when the will is revealed - not read but played on a record - the fortune falls to Annabel West (Tracy Shaw).

But there is a unique twist of a second will which can only be revealed if Annabel loses her marbles!

Cue for strange events and possible clues galore to dastardly deeds as they unfold. Or maybe they didn’t…

Britt Ekland provides a first rate performance of an old lady as the housekeeper, always referring to Mr West and ‘speaking’ to him, while Tracy Shaw’s successful and vibrant authoress provides the necessary feminine charm and fallibility. An accomplished offering too from one-time top singer Marti Webb, who’s Susan Sillsby chaperoned Nikki Patel’s Cicily Sillsby.

Shy but cheeky chappy Paul Jones stood out with an appealing performance from Mark Jordon - serious in general but mixed in, as in other areas, with a fine hint of farce.

Jordon, more recently seen in Emmerdale, will be forever by remembered as PC Phil Bellamy, a role he played of 16 years in ITV’s popular Heartbeat series.

There was one outstanding moment when he went to flop on the side of a settee and ended up on the floor which made the audience roar. It didn’t appear intended and Tracy Shaw’s shoulders were clearly shaking as she avoided eye contact and Jordon made the most of the ‘guilty’ settee arm.

Good performances too from Gary Webster, Ben Nealon and in particular Eric Carte, the ‘by the book’ solicitor.

Roy Marsden once again directs in style while Takis’ set was quite special - that of an eerie old library-cum-lounge and a bedroom fit for a heiress with paintings of eyes and clues to the whereabouts of a valuable diamond necklace.

A wonderful thriller comedy, totally dramatic and scary as lightning flashed and thunder rumbled around, and notably one not to miss if you can get through the floods. The effort will be worth it!