Father Brown equal to a convoluted plot

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Not all stage and screen detectives have rough edges. At the Devonshire Park Theatre this week, a mild and civilised Father Brown is distinctively different.

G K Chesterton is an unjustly neglected writer. Time has moved on, perhaps, and left him behind: old-fashioned, moral, deeply Christian.

But there are perennial truths in his writing, not loud or strident, but all of it tempered with wisdom, humanity and humour.

And in Father Brown, Chesterton has his finest creation. The priest detective has a gentle, modest manner but a brilliant mind, capable of teasing out truth like tangled string.

Rumpus Theatre Company, which is touring this play, is a sensible fit with theatres like the Devonshire Park. And with a distinguished history stretching from the Alec Guinness films to the more recent BBC adaptations, Father Brown is good box office.

The Curse of the Invisible Man is adapted by Rumpus director John Goodrum, of two short stories, but it has a tedious and over-detailed back story which has to be related before any of the exciting stuff can happen: not so much untangling string as unpicking a whole intricate tapestry.

On the page, a writer can find ways to hook us and reel us in; but a theatre audience needs something more impactful. Half an hour in, we were getting bored, and we honestly didn’t care enough about the mysterious tale of a set of medieval daggers. In fact it must have been trying the patience of the saintly priest himself.

It did get better. By the interval, the scent of intrigue and danger was becoming pervasive – with some clever stage effects and a couple of startling moments – and the audience had started that guessing game of where the plot was headed next. In the second half, Father Brown’s intuition and logic proved, of course, equal to the task. No spoilers here, but let’s just say that all proper thrillers have at least one body...

And even if the script is stodgy, the acting is uniformly excellent. Seasoned John Lyons, best known as Inspector Jack Frost’s sidekick, has all the mannerisms and inflections exactly right. Karen Henson convinces as the anxious aunt of perfectly poised and measured niece Anna Mitcham. John Goodrum himself completes the line-up as the fiancé, too young to be an old buffer but certainly headed for bufferhood. A rather long haul, but satisfying in the end. By Kevin Anderson