Death By Fatal Murder – October 2011

5/10

By: Peter Gordon

Directed by: Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 18th October 2011

Not a great play, although the cast did a good job with what they were given, and the audience were remarkably appreciative. The humour was pretty basic, with plenty of sexual innuendo, grabbing of buttocks and breasts, the occasional fart joke, etc. Some if it worked quite well, and we did have a few good laughs, but most jokes signalled their arrival a fair way out and fell limply onto the stage, hardly raising a chuckle.

The set was a sitting room with an old-fashioned look; turned out it’s an old country house setting. There was a main door at the back, a door to a linking corridor on the right, sofa, chairs, table and the usual assortment of furnishings including two large pictures, one above the fireplace and the other on the right-hand wall. The time was November 1940, and the costumes were appropriate.

The opening scene had a man sitting in one of the chairs in the gloom, and when a woman arrives, she realises he’s dead, makes some comment about her mother, and then grabs the poker to defend herself when she realises she’s not alone. Someone else was lurking in the corridor, and she gets as far as exclaiming ‘it’s you’, or some such, before the lights go out again and we’re left in the dark. The next scene starts us off on the quest to discover what’s happened to a missing constable, PC Atkins. Along the way we meet two randy women, one fake husband, an even more fake Italian, a fake medium, and an elderly local called Miss Joan Maple, with at least one skeleton in her closet! The local police inspector is called Pratt – yes, the humour was that obvious – and keeps calling people by the wrong name, as well as mangling nearly every other word. The constable who’s helping him, PC Tomkins, is much smarter, and figures out the puzzle before his boss, but as he’s also broken the law he’s likely to be in trouble too. Never mind, it all ends happily enough, although the ghost of Colonel Craddock shows his displeasure at the end.

There were references to other works during the evening; Miss Maple quoted from The Importance Of Being Earnestbefore the rest of the cast pointed out that was from the wrong play, and the Squadron Leader’s limp and cane were highly reminiscent of a certain Herr Flick – not too surprising since the Squadron Leader was played by Richard Gibson. I suspect David Callister is doing the near-corpse as a technique now – we’ve seen him do it a few times, and last night I found it unconvincing, even though other cast members did their best to back him up.

          Overall, the cast did a decent enough job, and I particularly liked Katy Manning’s Welsh psychic. The material wasn’t up to much, but they managed to create a passable performance out of it, which is worthy of an award in itself. Not one I’ll see again, but well done to the cast.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Inside Job – June 2010

6/10

By Brian Clemens

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Wednesday 9th June 2010

A decent thriller this, even though both Steve and I had worked out what was happening before the end. It’s set in Spain, where a husband and wife each hire the same ex-pat criminal to kill the other, promising insurance money and/or diamonds to pay for it. There were a couple of explosions, a bloody corpse, and more twists and turns than a mountain road. The cast all did a respectable job, with Matt Healy having more tongue in his cheek than the others. What with slurping drinks, rattling ice, and crinkling ice cream wrappers, the audience were almost noisier than the action on stage during the opening scene of the second half, but on the whole it was enjoyable enough.

The play starts with the wife, Suzy, having lured ‘Larry’ to the villa with the promise of sex, offering a completely different proposition. She’s found out that ‘Larry’ is, in fact, ‘Dutch’ Holland, a criminal on the run from the British police. She wants to get away from her husband, and persuades Dutch to return later to rob the safe – it’s supposed to have £100,000 worth of diamonds in it – and split the proceeds with her.

He agrees, but when he tries to carry out the robbery, the husband, Alex, surprises him, and despite being apparently shot and killed, manages to recover and turn the tables on the robber. The bullets were blanks, of course, but now Alex reloads with the real thing, and carries out the sort of conversation with Dutch that only ever happens in thrillers. Finally, he comes out with his own proposition – Dutch will carry out another robbery, only this time, Alex will have a cast-iron alibi and Suzy will be killed instead. The life insurance of £300,000 is dangled to tempt Dutch, but in reality he will have the diamonds which are not yet in the safe, but which will be arriving in a few days, and which are also, coincidentally, worth £300,000.

They do some planning then, and also the next day, when Alex sends Suzy off on a wild goose chase to pick up some cigars so that he and Dutch can confer alone. However, Dutch has already tipped Suzy off, and when she shows him letters from the insurance company which indicate that her life insurance has lapsed, but Alex’s cover is still active, it doesn’t take much brain power to work out where this one is going. There’s another twist, though, when Suzy returns from the cigar shop. After parking the car, she heads for the house and is nearly there when the car blows up! Who’s attempting to kill whom?

The second half starts about an hour after the explosion. Suzy has cleaned herself up, and Dutch is waiting with her while Alex is off dealing with the police. Dutch suggests killing Alex for the insurance money, explaining how he could set it up to give her the perfect alibi. He would come along, take the diamonds, kill Alex, and then tie her up so it will look like the robbers (she has to tell the police it was two men) were trying to get the combination of the safe out of her when Alex came back and was killed. It means she’ll have to wait through the night for someone to find her, but he’s even planned a reason for him to call the police to get them to come over and check up on Alex and find her. It seems like a foolproof plan, but can she trust him, and vice versa?

Then Alex comes up with another idea himself. His car is similar to the local mayor’s, and he suggested to the police that separatists may have targeted the mayor and blown up his car by mistake. He plans to use this to enhance the cover story they’ve been working on, but it means redirecting the police to think that he was the target of the car bomb all along. If only he could get a bomb! By an amazing coincidence, it turns out Dutch is a ‘bang-man’, specialising in bombs and fires, and he agrees to supply a small device so that Alex can blow up a yacht he has in the marina. When Alex sets off with the bomb, using Dutch’s car, both Steve and I wondered if the bomb would actually stay in Dutch’s car, to blow him up later, but a short while later there’s an explosion in the marina. So that’s alright, then. On the way back, Alex is picking up the diamonds, so the scene is almost set for the murder, but which one is going to be killed?

The final scene has the room in disarray, with Alex drinking wildly, when Dutch turns up. Apparently Alex has jumped the gun and killed Suzy already. He shows Dutch (and us) the dead body in the kitchen, behind the curtain, and offers him all the diamonds to help him out of the hole he’s dug for himself. Dutch agrees, and with some ties from the Alex’s wardrobe, he adapts the plan he outlined to Suzy for the new circumstances. Now it’s Alex who’ll be tied up, and will have to tell the police that two masked men burst in, demanded he open the safe, and then killed Suzy when she came back from her walk. Only it doesn’t work out that way.

Once Alex is safely trussed up, and Dutch has the diamonds and the loaded gun, he explains to Alex what’s really going to happen. I won’t go into all the details, but basically he’s going to cause a huge fireball in the room using some candles and a build-up of gas. No evidence will be left, and he’ll be free and clear. He gloats about as long as is safe, and then buggers off. As soon as he’s gone, Suzy comes out of the kitchen, blows out the candles and turns off the gas. As we’d suspected, Suzy and Alex were working together to bring Dutch to justice, since the British police had been unable to do so. In fact, Alex was a Detective Inspector, and Dutch had killed Suzy’s brother, so they both had a strong motive to nail him.

Having told the police that a suspected bomber was heading down the hill in a blue Mercedes, and with Dutch’s little bomb safely stowed in the boot (Alex had made his own for the marina explosion) they hope the police will either catch him and put him away for the rest of his natural, or get a bit trigger-happy and avoid the need for a trial. There is some machine-gun fire, as it happens, but Dutch gets away, and of course he ends up back at the villa to confront the duplicitous pair who tricked him. The gun still has blanks in it, and after firing at them, he collapses on the floor, revealing the three bullet holes in his back. The end.

We’d guessed most of this long before the end. We both wondered if Suzy would come to life before Dutch left, and kill him on his way out. He even stopped several times in front of the curtain, just to tease us, I suppose. That Alex and Suzy were working together to bring Dutch down occurred to each of us about half way through, although we didn’t know the details. An interesting challenge.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Nightfright – May 2010

6/10

By Roger S Moss

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Thursday 20th May 2010

A decent enough production of a pretty average thriller. Ian Dickens Productions tend to do these very much tongue in cheek, and there were certainly a few laughs tonight, though we suspect the locked kitchen door swinging open wasn’t planned. The set had the main entrance far left, window, door to kitchen, locked cupboard door, stairs to upper level (bedroom), door far right to garden/graveyard. This was a converted chapel, which was being rented out by an unscrupulous pair to provide suitable bodies for organ harvesting. Along come one newlywed couple, arriving a day before the resident villains have finished clearing up the previous occupant, and years of careful planning go to waste. How frustrating.

The regular in the cast, David Callister, did a good job as the multiple personality medical villain, while Joanne Heywood matched him as the schizophrenic estate agent come neighbourly vamp. I noticed they were both smiling at the end when they took their bows – I assume that it’s good fun playing those parts, and not something to take seriously. The leads were OK, though I found Helen George’s voice a bit nasal for my liking. But the main problem was the weak writing. It lost all credibility for me when the couple failed to call the police after finding the bloodstained clothes hidden up the chimney, not to mention the freshly dug grave in the no longer used graveyard. Still, they did their best, and we enjoyed ourselves well enough.

I did like the spoof CVs for the fake actors, to give the audience the mildest challenge possible in spotting the double casting. The inclusion of The Grain Store in the actress’s RSC credits was a particularly nice touch, I thought.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Strictly Murder – September 2009

6/10

By Brian Clemens

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 4th September 2009

A nice twist at the end made this thriller a bit above average. I recognised the set from September Tide back in April 2007; there was a strange raised area at the back, with two steps down to the front of the stage, but only in one central place. Very distinctive. Fortunately, this piece was much better than that one.

Set in Provence in 1939, the play sets up the idea that the young man, Peter Meredith, living in the cottage with a young woman, Suzy Hinchcliffe, is not all he seems to be. There’s mention of some scars on his back which look like wounds caused by barbed wire, there’s speculation that there are German spies operating in France, and he seems to be keen to listen for news on the radio about the possibility of war. There’s an old German guy called Josef who wanders around taking food and leaving flowers and carrying a gun. Is he a German spy, or just an old man still suffering from the effects of his service in the First World War? Then a man called Ross comes calling, having recognised the style of painting that Peter produces, referring to the way his cell had been decorated with them, and Peter is forced to take some drastic steps to stay free.

That was in April 1939, and with the second half we move forward several months. Back in April Suzy had announced that she was pregnant, and Peter had been less than enthusiastic about the prospect. Now a man called Ross turns up again with a woman called Miller, and tells Suzy the story of who Peter really is and why it’s not safe for a young woman to be carrying his baby. He arranges with her to set a trap for Peter but will she be able to carry it out?

The Miller role was being played by Georgina Sutton tonight instead of Sabina Franklyn – a last minute thing, I suspect. All the performances were fine and despite one or two remarkable coincidences it was believable enough, with a bit more depth to the central characters. A good evening out.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Write Me A Murder – June 2009

6/10

By Frederick Knott

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Tuesday 16th June 2009

This was the only Frederick Knott play we hadn’t seen, so we were keen to add it to our list. The plot takes place in an old country house, part of a large estate which has been run down over the years. The set showed the study/sitting room, with a section of it walled off to the right. This part had a door or French windows out to the gardens, a filing cabinet, table and chair, and lots of bookcases with some guns displayed on the wall near the front. The door to the other part of the room was towards the back. The sitting room had a door to the kitchen on the left, next to the large fireplace. There were French windows centre back leading to the garden and we could see a sundial just outside them. There were chairs and a desk, and we could also see the stairs up to the bedrooms at the back on the left which was also the way to the front door. There was lots of wood panelling, and various family portraits hung about the place.

The plot concerned the sale of the house by its current owner the Honourable Clive Rodingham to Charles Sturrock, a businessman who’s made pots of money but who started out with nothing more than a chip on his shoulder when he lived in the very village they can see from the windows of this house. He’s mad keen to buy up the big house and become the lord of the manor, getting his own back on all the posh folk who he felt looked down on him all those years ago. He’s brought his young wife with him, Julie. She’s trying to be a writer, and as Clive’s younger brother David is an established author and has finally turned up now that his brother’s told him their father’s dead, Sturrock rather menacingly suggests that David help Julie out with her story which he agrees to do.

She’s attempting to win a short story competition in the newspapers; a small prize, but given her husband’s crushing contempt for her abilities it’s a big step for her. David mainly writes thrillers and detective stories so they start to work out a murder plot. Clive, meanwhile, is off to America to schmooze his prospective in-laws; he’s nabbed a rich US woman and hopes to live a life of contented luxury for many a year to come. There’s also a Doctor pottering around, Elizabeth Woolley, an old family friend as well as the local GP, and still as sharp as a pin. A good mix of characters, with a number of possibilities.

The plot was a little bit clunky, with lots of room for things to go wrong, but it was enjoyable enough. It felt like an attempt to reprise Dial M For Murder; it wasn’t quite up to that standard, although the final twist was lovely to watch. Some decent performances, and a reasonably good night all in all.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Killing Time – April 2009

6/10

By Richard Stockwell

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 20th April 2009

Two-handers can be tricky in the theatre. There’s often little action, and it’s easy to lose the audience to other interests or the soft embrace of Morpheus. But there was no such problem tonight, as this production took us through a series of twists and turns that would have exhausted a well-trained rat in a maze. I did guess most of the twists, but usually only a short while before they were revealed anyway, so all credit to the writer for keeping us so attentive.

The play started with two people arriving at a remote house. Apparently, the chap, Rick (not his real name), had been given a lift by Jane (possibly not her real name) whose shopping he paid for after she had lost her wallet. Their conversation was fairly light and general at first, but within a short time there were indications that something more was going on, and soon we were up to our eyeballs in a complicated plot that led to at least one death.

Both actors did a good job, the set was suitably detailed, and although I felt the final twist involving a red jumper was a little unlikely, it didn’t bother me too much. So all in all a fun evening.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Don’t Look Now – October 2008

5/10

By Daphne Du Maurier, adapted by Nell Leyshon

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Wednesday 22nd October 2008

This was slightly disappointing. The play was based on both the original novel and the film with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, which I haven’t seen but Steve has. The story is set in and around Venice.

The set design was a bit boring, even allowing for the fact that this is a touring production. There were lots of walls, arches and balconies, all in washed-out colours. There were a lot of furnishings to be taken on and off between scenes, but as this was done fairly briskly I didn’t find it a problem. In general though, I felt there was very little sense of atmosphere. I suspect the lighting was partly at fault, as it seemed very flat most of the time.

The play started with a young couple sitting at an outdoor table on one of the Venetian islands. Their young daughter, Christina, died a short time ago, and their trip to Venice is an attempt to get over their grief. Their son is back in England, at school. They spot a couple of older women watching them, and make up backgrounds for them – jewel thieves, murderers, that sort of thing. One of the women talks to the wife during a trip to the loo, and this triggers an emotional change in her which disturbs the husband.

The older woman who has spoken to the wife has told her that the other older woman, her sister, is blind, but has developed an ability to see visions. She saw their daughter at their table, and this makes the wife very happy. From being unwilling to let her husband touch her, she changes so much she has sex with him that afternoon. He, on the other hand, thinks the sisters are just conning them, and becomes absurdly insistent that his wife has been taken in by a load of old rubbish.

It’s absurd because his emotions seem out of place in the circumstances. He also takes to seeing what may be their daughter, dressed in the red cloak she used to wear. The sense of foreboding increases when they get a call from England, to tell them their son is in hospital, and needs an urgent operation to remove his appendix. The wife flies back at once, but despite a warning from the two sisters that they should both leave Venice immediately, the husband stays on, planning to pick up their car and drive back.

The next day, he sees his wife with the two sisters, and instigates a police hunt for her, believing that the sisters have lured her back somehow. Then he manages to talk with her by phone, and is greatly relieved to find she’s in England, and their son is well after his operation. The police aren’t too happy when he tells them they were on a wild goose chase, though. They’re trying to track down a murderer who’s killing tourists, and didn’t need to be wasting their valuable time on something else.

The husband goes out for  a final stroll, and sees the small figure in the red cloak again. He follows it, and it turns out the tourist killer is a midget, dressed in a red cloak, and so the husband ends up dead. The final scene shows us the wife returning to Venice to collect her husband’s body and being supported by the two sisters, who tell her that her husband must have had a vision of this moment when he thought he saw his wife earlier.

It’s a simple enough story, and reasonably well told, but again the lack of atmosphere made it less gripping. The performances were fine, apart from the chief of police, who seemed determined to avoid speaking clearly throughout the whole evening. This, coupled with an Italian accent (I assume; I didn’t hear him well enough), meant that I lost most of his dialogue, and so the information about the tourist killer was lost on me until close to the end. Other than that, this was  a watchable production, but not an inspired one.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me