As murder mysteries go, this one is certainly different and definitely a cut above the average. Sure, it draws on some tried and tested formats and familiar ideas – but they are all pushed at least two steps beyond the expected, to produce something refreshingly novel. The ‘play within a play to pin a murderer’ was meat and drink to Shakespeare (Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2, to be precise) and Miss Christie’s most famous culprit is cunningly metamorphosed. Indeed, the twists are so neat I could be tempted to see the show again; even though I now know who did it.
It’s a year to the day that West End leading lady Monica Wells fell 10 floors to her death after a rather mediocre press night review. (I never knew critics had such influence). Even more tragically, she was due to marry the play’s writer Alex Dennison the next day. He is far from convinced about the suicide verdict (despite her type written note) and gathers everyone together again for the reading of his new play which he hopes will unmask the murderer; especially as he’s secreted a detective in the stalls.
What I admired most about this production was the exceptionally clever way adaptor David Rogers has constructed it. There are so many flash backs and re-enactments that we get to see the victim walking and talking long after her demise. Yet, the time junctions are seamless and the atmosphere frequently hair raising.
I have to say that the conclusion does have a worryingly large improbability about it, which the characters can only lamely explain away. But actually the final revelation is so clever, it doesn’t seem to matter too much.
Plots as good as this can usually get away with moderate acting, but the cast does a more than decent job.
For soaps stars, read pop stars. The still-gorgeous Anita Harris is cute and caring as the company angel Bella Lamb and the mellifluent Mark Wynter beautifully bombastic as the aging Lothario David Mathews, from whose wandering fingers no starlet’s knee is safe. And I was most impressed by Alex Ferns whose casual stage presence and mild voice disguise his steely intent to bring his fiancé’s murder to book. His tongue in cheek soliloquy about the hoodwinking nature of the genre brought simpering sighs from a healthy matinee house.
It’s a slow show…but actually that proved pretty helpful for deduction purposes and merely emphasised the malevolent mood. Empty theatres can be brooding at the best of times and there was a spookiness from the off.
Bill Kenwright’s new Classic Thriller Theatre Company is the child of his earlier Agatha Christie Theatre Company and allows him to produce new stories of which I’m sure the dear old Dame would thoroughly approve. Judging by the audience reaction, there will be no call for suicides. But do remember, they are all actors. Hint, hint!
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