Love From A Stranger – March 2018

Experience: 8/10

By Frank Vosper, adapted from a short story by Agatha Christie

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Co-produced by Fiery Angel and Royal & Derngate Northampton

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Thursday 29th March 2018

Several surprises tonight. Firstly, this was an Agatha Christie story which I didn’t remember, so I was much more caught up in the suspense that I expected. Secondly, Lucy Bailey’s production had more tesnsion and was more gripping than I’d anticipated. We’d seen her version of Dial M For Murder some years ago, and really enjoyed the way she used the movement of the stage and a much looser set design to create a greater sense of suspense than usual, but although the set here was less balletic, with front and back sections simply sliding from side to side as needed, it didn’t get in the way of the performances, and allowed the tension to build. And finally, and even more surprising, was to find in our records that we saw a production of Love From A Stranger thirty years ago, at the Theatre Royal Brighton: safe to say, I have absolutely no recollection of that production at all.

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The Case Of The Frightened Lady – February 2018

Experience: 7/10

By Edgar Wallace, adapted by Antony Lampard

Directed by Roy Marsden

Company: The Classic Thriller Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Thursday 8th February 2018

Perhaps I’m being a bit kind to this production, but I often find I lower my expectations for these old-fashioned plays: as long as the cast turn in a decent set of performances, the staging is suitably brisk and the set and costumes don’t let the cast down, then I’m prepared to enjoy myself. And that’s how it turned out tonight. The story managed a surprise or two, there were some good laughs, and the cast made the most of their fairly thin characters to provide us with an entertaining evening.

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And Then There Were None – April 2015

Experience: 7/10

By Agatha Christie

Directed by Joe Harmston

Agatha Christie Theatre Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Wednesday 1st April 2015

An excellent day to be seeing this thriller again, given the early suggestion that someone was playing a practical joke on the assembled guests at the isolated island retreat of Mr and Mrs U N Owen (unknown). Despite our familiarity with the plot, we rated this performance higher than the previous time we saw it – don’t know why that was – and with the same set and staging there’s little to comment on in terms of the production, but I will make a few notes just the same.

There was some stormy music playing quietly when we entered the auditorium, accompanied by the sound of waves crashing against rocks. When the curtain rose, a large chandelier was sitting centre stage, covered with a large cloth; the butler’s first task when he came on was to remove the cloth and use a push button on the left side wall to raise the chandelier up. This was the same control panel that the murderer uses at the end to lower the noose.

The ‘guests’ began arriving almost immediately. Marston, the arrogant boy racer, was very affected, whilst Davis, the apparent South African who turned into an English copper, was bluff and hearty. The judge said “when” before the soda siphon had even reached his whisky, which got a laugh, and I noticed this time that nobody could remember Davis’s name. The back of the secretary’s evening dress was very low-cut, and this infuriated Emily Brent, a self-righteous individual who took great delight in the divine punishment of people she didn’t like. The bitchiness between her and Vera Claythorne – the secretary – was very well done, as were the snide remarks by the housekeeper.

Some of the murderer’s actions were less clear this time round, but just as effective in reducing the population of the island, while the soldiers were being removed by whichever member of the cast was in the vicinity. Ben Nealon, a stalwart of this company, was making sure he could be heard in the back row, but as we were sitting right at the front, he was a bit too loud for my liking. I did spot some passing references to Christie’s other work, such as the doctor suggesting that another character may be an impostor, and again I was aware of how well this play has been put together. The auditorium was fairly full, and we gave them a good response at the end of the evening as well as providing lots of gasps and suchlike during the performance.

© 2015 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Black Coffee – April 2014

Experience: 7/10

By Agatha Christie

Directed by Joe Harmston

The Agatha Christie Theatre Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Wednesday 23rd April 2014

Front row again for this play. We saw a rehearsed reading a couple of years ago at Chichester with David Suchet not only reading the part of Poirot, but dressing up in the costume and acting the part as well as could be imagined; it was as if the great detective had agreed to play himself in a radio play which we were privileged to witness. No David Suchet himself this time, of course, but Robert Powell was an excellent substitute, delivering the great detective’s role with style and authority, and well supported by the rest of the cast.

I won’t give away the plot. We knew whodunnit from the off, and with the action unfolding directly in front of us I even spotted the culprit in the act of committing the murder! The unravelling of the crime and exposure of the criminal was very well done, and being able to see the action as well as hear the dialogue was great fun.

Set in 1929, the costumes and set were wonderfully detailed, with the elderly aunt choosing to dress in an older style from the young ‘uns. The room in which all the action was set was in the (then) modern Art Deco style, with double doors in the vast window at the back leading into the garden, a door on the left to the study, doors front right and back right to other parts of the house and a fireplace on the left side of the room. There was marble, glossy black and chrome everywhere, while the sofa, chairs, tables and other furnishings all looked period to me.

This time round I noticed some interesting references in the dialogue to two of Christie’s other works, The Unexpected Guest and The Mousetrap (although as that play was written after this one, the humour was anachronistic – we laughed anyway). I did try to listen for other references, but I became so engrossed in the story I lost track.

Robin McCallum was a marvellous Hastings, bringing out a lot of humour in his facial expressions, and the audience was nicely responsive both during the performance and at the end.

© 2014 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Go Back For Murder – June 2013

Experience: 7/10

By Agatha Christie

Directed by Joe Harmston

Agatha Christie Theatre Company

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Friday 14th June 2013

No programs? What do you mean, no programs? We had to be content with a photocopied cast list and actors’ CVs – no details of the creative team, background info, nor any interesting and entertaining articles. I had to get the essential details from the flyer – good job Steve has a penchant for collecting such things.

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The Mousetrap – April 2013

Experience: 8/10

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.

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The Virgin In The Ice – March 2013

Experience: 6/10

By Ellis Peters

Adapted, designed and directed by Michael Lunney

Company: Middle Ground

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Friday 29th March 2013

Fortunately I’m already a fan of the Cadfael books, as this rather choppy adaptation of Ellis Peter’s The Virgin In The Ice wouldn’t have encouraged me to become one. Middle Ground did their best, but it’s hard to transpose detective fiction successfully to the stage – Agatha Christie adapted several of her own books to make sure they worked – and despite the clever use of video for backgrounds, maps, etc., there was still a lot of stage furniture to be wheeled on and off between quite short scenes. Even with the help of an abundance of monks, this took some time and inevitably lost momentum.

I won’t go over the story again; they were pretty faithful to the book, and the scene at the robbers’ stronghold was very well done. With so much of the action being on the top of a tall structure we couldn’t see it very well, but the dialogue was clear enough. Gareth Thomas was fine as Cadfael himself, and there was good support from Paul Hassall as Hugh Beringar and Daniel Murray as the young man, Yves Hugonin. But with so much story to tell, the other characters were sketchy at best, although I wouldn’t criticise any of the actors as I did feel they weren’t helped by the adaptation.

We enjoyed ourselves well enough – as I said, we’re fans of the books – and I did have a few sniffles at the end when Cadfael came face to face with his son. A good effort, but not Middle Ground’s best work.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me