Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 461
Dangerous Corner, Priestley’s first solo effort for the theater, was written in only one week to prove a novelist could write a play. He demonstrated a talent for developing the interesting characters and intriguing situations required for suspense drama and added a unique time twist that resulted in the play’s continuing success on stage.
In the British version(the play was “laundered” and given an American context for Broadway), Dangerous Corner opens with the timeworn theatrical device of a shot in the dark and a woman’s scream. When the lights come up it is revealed that there is no murder. A group of women have been listening to a radio drama and discussing the program’s title, “The Sleeping Dog.” Priestley believed that analogies should be clear, that there should be no question about the meaning of an author’s symbols. Truth is the sleeping dog that they should let lie, specifically the truth regarding the mysterious suicide of Freda’s brother-in-law, Martin. When the men join the group, Stanton agrees that the truth is often as healthy as speeding too fast around a corner. “And,” Freda declares, “life’s got a lot of dangerous corners.”
Like most suspense plays, the success of Dangerous Corner results from the ingeniousness of the situation, the cleverness of the resolution, and an unexpected twist at the play’s climax. With the philosophical foundation laid, the characters settle in for an evening of small talk. Olwen recognizes a musical cigarette box and remembers that it belonged to Martin. When Freda pointedly disagrees, there is a pause as they “look at one another steadily.” Here is their dangerous corner: Will Freda let this comment pass? She does not. This chance remark dredges up the truth of everyone’s secret associations with Martin. The confessions of adultery, homosexuality, drug abuse, theft, and criminal cover-up destroy every relationship and reveal that Martin was, in fact, murdered.
These are the ingredients of modern melodrama. It is the unexpected twist at the climax that raises Dangerous Corner above most other suspense plays. Devastated by the revelations, Martin’s brother, Robert, exits as the stage lights dim. In the blackout, the shot and woman’s scream are repeated. Surprisingly the lights come back up on the exact scene that started the play. In a foreshadowing of Priestley’s later “time plays,” the story begins again. This time, however, as the characters approach the “sleeping dog” of truth, Olwen’s chance remark is left unchallenged, the dangerous corner is successfully negotiated. Priestley does not allow the truth to change, merely the characters’ knowledge of it. This device, where ironies are made manifest because the audience knows more than the characters, became a favorite technique in many of his works.
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