Priestley had recently collaborated with Edward Knoblock on the dramatisation of The Good Companions and now wished "to prove that a man might produce long novels and yet be able to write effectively, using the strictest economy, for the stage." While it was praised highly by James Agate, Dangerous Corner received extremely poor reviews and after three days he was told that the play would be taken off, a fate that he averted by buying out the syndicate. It then ran for six months. Priestley's action was further vindicated by the worldwide success the play was to enjoy, although he soon lowered his estimate of this work and as early as 1938 remarked "It is pretty thin stuff when all is said and done."
Robert and Freda Caplan are entertaining guests at their country retreat. A chance remark by one of the guests ignites a series of devastating revelations, revealing a hitherto undiscovered tangle of clandestine relationships and dark secrets, the disclosures of which have tragic consequences. The play ends with time slipping back to the beginning of the evening and the chance remark not being made, the secrets remaining hidden and the "dangerous corner" avoided.
The play begins in darkness with a muffled gunshot and scream. Lights are turned on to reveal a drawing-room containing four women who have been listening to a radio play after dinner. Two of them, Freda and Betty, are the wives of directors of a publishing firm. A close friend, Olwen joins them with Maud Mockridge, a novelist.
Their chat has turned to the suicide last year of Freda's brother-in-law Martin Caplan when they are interrupted by the entry of the husbands, Robert and Gordon, along with Charles. Freda offers Olwen a cigarette from a musical box which Olwen innocently recognizes. Her recognition arouses Freda's suspicion and she demands to know when Olwen saw the box; Olwen responds evasively and Robert chides her. Eventually Freda claims she sent the box to Martin shortly before his suicide, but this is then challenged by Gordon. Robert is angry and both Freda and Olwen are forced to admit that they visited Martin just hours before his suicide. At this point, Maud takes her leave, and soon all the guests depart except Olwen.
Robert, Freda and Olwen are discussing last year's theft of £500 from the firm, on which they had blamed Martin's suicide, when they realize that Charles has systematically misled them and that he must have stolen the money himself. Robert snatches the telephone and demands that Gordon and Charles return.
Charles admits that he took the money, but insists that he was planning to return it within a week and that it was not the cause of Martin's suicide. It emerges that Freda and Gordon were both in love with Martin. At this point Betty arrives at the house, indignant at being left out, to discover the men on the brink of fighting.
Olwen admits that she shot Martin while he was in a drug-fuelled rage; he had lunged at her with a gun and tried to rape her. Afterwards she had driven to Charles's cottage for help, but left immediately after realizing that Betty was spending the night there.
After a great deal of bitter discussion, all the guests but Olwen leave, totally alienated from one another.
The firm is certain to collapse. Robert is in despair; he goes to his room. Freda suddenly remembers that Robert keeps a revolver there, and tears out after him. The lights fade, and we hear a shot and a scream.
When the lights are turned back on, we find ourselves at the beginning of Act I. The opening scene is repeated in a shortened version. Olwen recognizes the box, but Freda makes no remark, and their conversation dwindles after Gordon turns on the radio for dance music.
- Robert Caplan
- Freda Caplan
- Betty Whitehouse
- Gordon Whitehouse
- Olwen Peel
- Charles Trevor Stanton
- Maud Mockridge
- Theatre arts monthly, Volume 22, Issue 1.
- Priestley, J. B. (1932). Dangerous Corner. London: Samuel French