SUDDENLY AT HOME

a thriller by Francis Durbridge
22 March – 08 May 2010
 
 
Francis Durbridge’s plays have been seen in almost every country in Europe. The Hull-born author and playwright was born in 1912 and died in 1998. His output was prodigious: At least 35 novels, 22 TV series, seven theatrical plays and around 30 radio plays and serials.

He was encouraged to write by his English teacher, and continued to do so whilst studying English at Birmingham University. After graduating in 1933, he worked for a short time as a stockbroker’s clerk. He sold his first play to the BBC at 21, and created his most enduring character, the crime novelist and detective Paul Temple, at 26. His Paul Temple radio plays were distributed by the B.B.C. to over twenty English-speaking countries and were also performed in numerous languages throughout the world. In many ways he was the first of the popular multimedia writers, with simultaneous hits on radio, TV, film and in print.

Although born in the North of England Durbridge lived most of his life in London. He was married and had two sons. He liked travelling, getting local colour for his stories and attending rehearsals of his plays. He visited most countries on the Continent and travelled fairly extensively in the United States.

At the peak of his career he could justly claim to have a larger audience than any other television writer in Europe if not in the world. At one time he was the most popular television writer in Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and Poland. In the German speaking countries alone his T.V. plays regularly reached audiences of over 25 million viewers.

In later life he turned to the theatre with similar success writing a number of ingeniously plotted and highly successful whodunits His most famous play Suddenly at Home was first produced at the Theatre Royal, Windsor in 1971 and transferred to the Fortune Theatre where it had a very long run.

Audiences clearly enjoy watching thrillers. Given that Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is now in the 58th year of its West End run, and a stage adaptation of Susan Hill’s ghost story The Woman in Black is in its 21st it’s surprising that stage thrillers aren’t more prolific than they are.

Why do audiences enjoy them so much? Partly, they like to be teased; they also like to be titillated; and they definitely like to be surprised. Unlike mysteries in which the audience searches for clues to figure out “whodunit,” thrillers let viewers know who the bad guys are in advance. Then, the audience spends the rest of the play, hopefully on the edge of their proverbial seats, wondering who will win: the evildoer or the innocent victim?

It’s a no doubt an apocryphal story, but tourists in London are warned that if they don’t tip the cab sufficiently that drops them off at The Mousetrap, the cabbie will tell you whodunit! However, Suddenly at Home is a thriller where the audience will be asking themselves not “who done it” but “will he get away with it&rdquo

Paul Tomlinson