Review: An Unexpected Guest

This is pleasant enough evening, and certainly one for the dedicated followers of the works of Agatha Christie.

By

Presented by Therry Dramatic Society
Reviewed Saturday 3rd November 2012

Dame Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap was performed by this company late last year, and again this year by a professional touring company, celebrating the play’s sixtieth year of continuous performances in London. This is another of her murder mystery plays, following the formulaic style of most of her works. There is always a disparate collection of suspects, all of whom look guilty, all with apparent motives, and all with opportunities to have committed the crime. They are usually closed off to some degree from the rest of the world, red herrings abound, and there is the usual surprise or twist ending when the murderer is unmasked.

In this case, most are members of the Warwick family, with their two servants, a stranger, a neighbour, and two policemen completing the group. The stranger, Michael Starkwedder, has run into trouble, and has been driving around helplessly trying to find his way in the darkness of night. It is not only dark, but very foggy, and he has driven his car into a ditch nearby. He has come to the isolated house of the Warwicks, hoping to get help and directions, and finds a door unlocked. He enters, to discover that the wheelchair-bound Richard Warwick has been shot dead, and his wife, Laura, is standing in the shadows with the gun in her hand.

She confesses to the murder, but he does not believe her and thinks that she is shielding somebody. Eventually, she admits that she is innocent and the hunt is on for the real killer. He accepts that she is innocent and they devise a plot to cast suspicion onto man whose son was killed years before in an accident when Richard was driving while drunk. There follows a string of admissions, denials, false confessions, and several other of Christie’s devices designed to confuse her audience, before the culprit is revealed in the expected surprise ending.

Whether I am getting accustomed to her style, or whether this is not her best writing, or perhaps for some other reason that I have not considered, my assessment of ‘whodunnit’ during the first act, which I was given no reason to doubt or reassess as the play continued, did, in fact, prove correct. Apparently I was not the only one to work it out before the end. I am not at all convinced that her plays come up to the same standard as her novels and, had it not been for the gimmick of swearing audiences to secrecy that gave it a sort of cult following, I suspect that The Mousetrap would be as little known and performed as this play.

Her plays do not allow for extensive character development either, as her focus is most strongly on the complexities of the plot, and the dialogue often sounds rather contrived and very dated, which presents considerable challenges to both directors and performers alike. Her stage dialogue tends to largely take the place of the descriptive writing and the introduction of background information the she presents alongside the real dialogue in her books and, as a consequence, quite a long periods can pass before the characters begin to emerge.

That said, Director Norm Caddick has done a commendable job with what the script has to offer. The set, designed by Caddick, with Patsy Thomas, and Stanley Tuck, coupled to a lighting design, by Denise Lovick, looks good and works well, and the costumes also fit the bill.

Fiona Fulwood and Saxon Cordeaux play the central characters, Laura Warwick and Michael Starkwedder, with a nice wavering in their relationships where there might, or might not, just be a romantic spark happening, but a degree of suspicion preventing it growing. They handle this interaction well, keeping the audience guessing as to whether anything will happen between them.

Joy Bishop is wonderful as the elder Mrs. Warwick, Richard’s mother, who has a few revelations to make, and a secret of her own to reveal. Bishop makes good use of those opportunities to be a little mysterious, in contrat to being the dear olf lady, the benign matriarch of the family that we see at first.

Miram Keane is Miss Bennett, known to the others as Benny, giving a strong performance and making her character suitably crisp, efficient, and a little cold, almost bullying the others into doing what she wishes.

Stephen Billis is well cast as the male nurse, Henry Angell, a little sinister, somewhat aloof, and with a tendency to look down his nose.

Shane Deery plays Jan Warwick, a mentally ill young man, the younger son and half-brother of Richard. Deery gives a convincing performance, nicely frightening in his display of his character’s inability to grasp the difference between right and wrong, or the consequences of any action he takes.

Brad Martin plays neighbour, Julian Farrar giving us a rather suspicious character, clearly with things to hide, but keeping quiet to protect somebody else.

Theatre stalwart, Peter Davies plays the detective, Inspector Thomas, with Simon Lancione as his assistant, Sergeant Cadwallader. Don’t expect great Welsh accents, though, from the only two Welsh characters in the cast. That of Davies is a mild accent, and that of Lancione, although strong, comes and goes, and wanders around Ireland occasionally. These two make a good double act, as they should do, playing the smarter and experienced senior man and the enthusiastic, but not so clever deputy.

The deceased, Richard Warwick, is played by Stanley Tuck in a consistently stable performance, unflinchingly accepting his fate. He is, after all, dead before the play starts.

This is pleasant enough evening, and certainly one for the dedicated followers of the works of Agatha Christie, but hampered from becoming exceptional by the awkward script.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

Therry web site

Venue: ARTS Theatre, 53 Angas Street, Adelaide
Season: to Sat 10th November 2012
Duration: 2hrs 10mins (incl. interval)
Tickets: Adult $25/ Conc $20
Bookings: 8296 3477 (10am to 5 pm weekdays) BASS 131 246 or  here or VenueTix outlets

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