Father Brown – A Crime at Christmas
By John Goodrum based on the mysteries of G K Chesterton
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Actors can continue working as long as they know their lines and don’t bump into the furniture. That old saying has been proved correct a couple of times in 2023.
First there was the Royal Shakespeare Company production of As You Like It which featured mainly actors aged 70 and above. Now Tabs Productions gives us a new play, Father Brown – A Crime at Christmas in which the lead actor is 79-year-old John Lyons.
It’s 13 years since he last portrayed his most famous role, that of Detective Sergeant George Toolan, sidekick to David Jason’s Detective Inspector Jack Frost in the television drama A Touch of Frost. He’s continued working since then, especially for two associated organisations, Tabs Productions and Rumpus Theatre Company.
This is the third time he’s donned his cassock to play the crime-solving priest. The fist time was in 2015 in Father Brown – The Curse of the Invisible Man which was followed by Father Brown—The Murderer in the Mirror as part of the Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season in 2021. All of them were written by John Goodrum.
In Father Brown – A Crime at Christmas the Roman Catholic priest comes up against his nemesis and has to work out who stole three priceless diamonds, a Christmas gift to Ruby Adams from her wealthy godfather.
The action takes place in the early 1930s in the home of widow Violet Adams on the outskirts of London. Sir Leopold Fischer arrives on Christmas Eve with an impressive present for Ruby.
The suggestion that the guests at a festive party should make their own entertainment by staging a pantomime is met with a largely favourable reaction although Sir Leopold and Father Brown watch rather than taking part.
The performance of Harlequin and the Stolen Sausages allows writer Goodrum to present a pastiche of the genre, illustrating how ridiculous panto can be as the characters make use of household items as props.
David Osmond gets the best laugh as Joey the Clown when he quips “it’s not as easy as it looks!” as he struggles to hide the sausages in his harlequin’s costume.
The second half takes on a different feel as Father Brown endeavours to unmask the thief. Lyons’ voice has plenty of light and shade; he’s so composed and assured in the role. Age means nothing when you’re as accomplished as Lyons.
Six of the cast of the first 2023 Thriller Season production, Agatha Christie and Frank Vosper’s Love From a Stranger, return in true rep tradition. As Ruby, Lara Lemon is excitable and coquettish while Susan Earnshaw gives another commendable performance as larger-than-life Mrs Adams.
Jeremy Lloyd Thomas shines as irascible Sir Leopold, Osmond is comfortable as socialist John Crook and there is good support from Juliette Strobel as Maisie the maid and Pavan Maru as acrobat and comic actor Florian.
Goodrum also takes to the stage as loud, extrovert James Blount, Mrs Adams’ brother-in-law who’s spent many years in Canada.
It seems strange to watch a show involving a pantomime during what’s supposed to be the height of summer. But Father Brown – A Crime at Christmas will satisfy theatregoers who enjoy cosy crime. There’ll be arguments as to whether it’s a classic thriller but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.
* This review originally appeared on the British Theatre Guide website