By Agatha Christie
Directed by Ian Watt-Smith
Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton
Date: Thursday 18th April 2013
I very much enjoyed seeing this for the second time. The first was back in 1987, and for a number of reasons it wasn’t a great experience. The play was clinging on by the tips of its fingernails to the West End supported only by its long-running record, the set looked like the original one from the 1950s, and by that time the regular cast changes had brought the performance down to the level of stock characterisations and slightly hammy acting. We spotted some obvious points early on, and if we hadn’t been waiting for more twists to follow we would have nabbed the culprit before the interval.
Not so tonight. Refreshed and refurbished, this performance absolutely sparkled, reminding us that Agatha’s work is often underrated. The characters were all believable (for the 1950s), even if we have to make some allowance for the strange foreigner type, and although I knew the outcome I found myself wondering if I’d misremembered; we were offered such a rich variety of suspects that if I hadn’t known whodunnit, I would have been lucky to guess this time around. And they took full advantage of the humour, one aspect of Agatha’s work that I’ve always enjoyed, with plenty of laughs, especially in the first half as we met the characters and the situation was set up.
The individual performances were all good. In alphabetical order: Steven France carried off the nervous, overly-social Christopher Wren really well, while Karl Howman was nicely enigmatic as Mr Paravicini, the unexpected guest. Bruno Langley’s Giles Ralston was completely unsuited to running a guest house, as he didn’t seem to like anyone but his wife; mind you, his Basil Fawlty-style put down of Mrs Boyle was very enjoyable. Elizabeth Power was splendid as Mrs Boyle, an old termagant who could rattle off a string of criticisms faster than a Gatling gun, and Bob Saul did well as the persistent Detective Sergeant Trotter, whose investigative efforts led to the final revelation. Graham Seed gave Major Metcalf an air of relaxed authority, while Jemma Walker did a good job of showing us Mollie Ralston’s liveliness and kindness. Clare Wilkie completed the cast as the mannish Miss Casewell, an intelligent young woman with a brusque attitude and no fondness for chit-chat. Her method of getting the best chair in the room for herself was good fun to watch. One of these people was a murderer, but who?
Well, I’m not going to tell anyone. That the secret hasn’t been revealed is something of a wonder in these days of instant worldwide communication, and one I’m grateful for. Having seen this 60th anniversary production, I’m now firmly convinced that the play can go on a lot longer, and deserves to if this sort of standard can be maintained. Unlike the cast, tonight’s audience were dreadful; the fusillade of coughing in the second half nearly distracted me from the dialogue on stage, but fortunately I was already so involved that I could shrug it off. At least we gave the actors a very warm response at the end, which they thoroughly deserved.
© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me