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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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

The Haunting – November 2012

8/10

Adapted from the ghost stories of Charles Dickens by Hugh James

Directed by Hugh Wooldridge

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Tuesday 20th November 2012

Another splendid adaptation of Dickens tonight, this time by Hugh James. He’s taken Dickens’ various ghost stories, plus some atmospheric bits from the novels, and blended them into a really creepy evening’s entertainment, complete with special effects. For an audience used to compelling 3D CGI in films nowadays, it may seem a bit tame, but I found it tremendously scary – Steve’s hand is expected to make a full recovery. The performances were very good, and although some of the lighting effects seemed a bit strange, the story was so well told that I was gripped from the start.

I won’t give too much away (I hope). The two-person story concerned a young man, David Filde (James Roache) and an older one, Lord Gray (David Robb). Lord Gray had recently succeeded to the title after the death of his father, and he was back in England to wrap up the estate and sell off the remaining assets – the books, the house, etc. – so that he could clear his father’s debts and return to India, where he had established himself as a businessman. David Filde was the nephew of the book dealer who had sold the late Lord Gray many of the books which lined his study walls, and having been trained in the same business, had been sent by his uncle to catalogue and remove the books for sale. After a short while, David began to hear strange sounds, a voice asking him to “help me” and the like, and with only four days left before Lord Gray returned to India, the pressure soon mounted to unravel the mystery in time.

The set was detailed and elaborate. It represented the study where the older Lord Gray had spent much of his time, with a bedroom off it in which he had actually died. There was a surprising amount of humour in this production, and the current Lord Gray’s casual reference to the fact that the bed young David would be sleeping in was the one his father had died in was one of the early laughs. From the right: tall double doors to the hall, bookcases with steps up to them, a small dais in front of the central French windows where stood the desk with an armchair on the audience side, a large globe on a stand in the corner, the double doors to the bedroom, and more book shelves surrounding the fireplace. A portrait of the late Lord Gray hung over the fireplace, and there was a very strong resemblance to his son. Another armchair stood beside the fire, and there was the skeleton of a tree outside the windows, which were smeared with age. The room had fallen into such neglect that it had lost part of the roof – a chandelier lay front right on the floor, draped with cobwebs and dust. At the top of the walls were some broken planks, and a thick film of dust with cobweb trim was visible on most of the books. As the play progressed, and David sorted out more of the books, gaps appeared on the shelves and a couple of packing cases materialised near the doors to the hall.

The effects were not too surprising – books falling off shelves and doors opening and closing on their own and suchlike – but they were well used, and the plot unfolded with masterful skill. We had some ideas at the interval, and weren’t completely off the mark as it turned out, but there was plenty still to learn in the second half and the revelations were well done. The final scene put a whole new slant on the events we’d seen, and we were very happy with our evening’s thrills and chills.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me