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Interview - Gray O'Brien stars in The Case of the Frightened Lady

Posted on 6 June 2018

Following on from the success of last year’s production of A Judgement in Stone, Bill Kenwright’s The Classic Thriller Theatre Company return to Coventry this month with another gripping murder mystery.

Adapted from a story by the “king of the detective thriller” Edgar Wallace, The Case of the Frightened Lady sets its scene amidst the forbidding grandeur of Mark’s Priory, the ancestral home of the wealthy Lebanon family. Called in to investivgate a ruthless murder, Inspector Tanner soon learns nothing is as it seems, uncovering a shocking and closely guarded secret as he moves towards the heart of the mystery.

Starring in the show as Inspector Tanner is former Coronation Street star Gray O’Brien. Ahead of its arrival at the Belgrade 12-16 June, he told us more about what to expect from the production.

How would you describe The Case of The Frightened Lady?

It’s a brilliant thriller set at a country mansion. The police are called because there’s been a suspicious death. Rather than get in the local constabulary, they bring in the big guns from London because they want to keep it quiet. It’s a bit of a pressure cooker situation. We’re all stuck in the reception hallway of this grand house. There are lots of shenanigans going on. So you don’t know exactly what’s happening and everyone’s doing the cloak and dagger thing.
It’s set at a politically interesting time in 1932. It’s just after the Depression and employment has all changed. Service is about to stop and all these stately homes will become a thing of the past. So there’s a lot about class in there too.

You play the detective, Tanner. What’s he like?

In the classic films of the period, the coppers were always a bit thick. We’re trying to get away from that. Tanner and his colleague Totti are smart guys. They’re educated. They’re old school coppers but with a modern attitude.

Why did you want to be in The Case Of The Frightened Lady?

The show’s producer, Bill Kenwright, is very loyal. I did Sleuth for him in 2001, and he’s always come back and offered me work. There were a few things he’d asked me to do that I wasn’t able to. Then this came up and I was available. I loved the script. I thought it was something exciting and new from a different writer, because we’ve seen all the Agatha Christies, haven’t we?

Why do you think people love a murder mystery?

We’ve all got an opinion. There are people who don’t want to voice their opinion on religion or politics, but we all want to get involved in stuff like this. And we’re big quizzers. We love to quiz and work things out. Audiences are going to puzzle their way through The Case of The Frightened Lady and it will keep them guessing. That’s why you go and see a thriller, isn’t it?

Are you excited about touring the UK?

What I love about touring is that you get to see absolutely fantastic places. I’m quite interested in cathedrals, so I always make a point of visiting those. And I’m a very keen cyclist, so I’ll be taking a road bike. I’ll be one of those lycra-bottomed chaps. I think it’s important to keep fit and healthy.
I’m also a big afternoon tea fan. I do like visiting tea rooms and testing their Victoria Sponge. I don’t really do Twitter very much, but I will tweet a nice afternoon tea. You’ve got to be careful of the cakes, but if you cycle 40 miles you can work off a slice of victoria sponge.

You’re best known as Coronation Street’s Tony Gordon. How do you look back on your time in Weatherfield?

I don’t really remember Coronation Street because the work was so solid. It was three years. I think in one year I did 196 episodes, another 197, out of the 252 that were filmed. You just don’t have any time off. It just becomes crazy. It’s wonderful at the time, but you don’t get the chance to enjoy it. The guest artists like me are brought in to facilitate the regulars. You’re never going to be there forever, but you’re extremely busy while you are. I burned out. Then you finish and no-one can touch you because you’re too associated with that job.

But I’m very grateful for the past television opportunities like Coronation Street, Peak Practice and Casualty. They allow me to be in something like this. I’ve been doing this job for 28 years now, and I’m in it for the long haul.

The Case of the Frightened Lady runs at the Belgrade Theatre 12-16 June. Tickets are available to book now.

Interview by Matthew Amer