Presented by Michael Coppell, Louise Withers, Linda Bewick, in assoc with Adrian Barnes
Reviewed Thursday 11th October 2012
This year is the Diamond Anniversary of Agatha Christie’s famous play, perhaps best known for the request at every performance not to tell anybody who committed the crime, a request repeated at the end of this performance. Before the Internet and search engines, this might have been a valid request, but nothing is a secret any longer. This play script has also been published in anthologies of her works. Sixty professional productions will be performing in this sixtieth year. Although billed as the first time in Australia, that is not entirely true, as the Therry Dramatic Society presented a fine production in September 2011 that proved so popular that they had to extend the season. That was, in fact, the very first production outside the UK, as the amateur rights had only just been released. This is, though, the first professional touring production.
Mollie and Giles Ralston have moved into Monkswell Manor, which she has inherited, and they have converted it into a guest house. This is their first night in business, and there are a few last minute preparations going on. Christopher Wren, Mrs. Boyle, Major Metcalf and Miss Casewell are the first to arrive, in quick succession. Mr. Paravicini arrives shortly after, claiming that his Rolls Royce has overturned in a snowdrift, thus adding an unexpected guest to the group. A radio announcement tells of a murder in London and a telephone call from the police warns them that he is headed in their direction. In spite of the foul weather, Detective Sergeant Trotter turns up to investigate, having travelled there on skis. Mrs. Boyce is discovered to have been murdered and, as they are isolated by the weather and the telephone now appears to have been cut off, they realise that the murderer must be one of them. In true Agatha Christie style, what follows is full of the expected red herrings, false clues and misleading information, before the murderer is finally revealed in the usual twist ending.
The setting is the hall of the manor, with a log fire burning to one side and a huge heavily curtained window at the rear, through which we can see snow falling. There are numerous doors, an entrance archway, and a set of stairs running off the hall. It is late January in the winter of 1952 and the Manor is in an isolated location. The characters are, naturally, a disparate collection, all apparently hiding something. It has all the hallmarks of an Agatha Christie mystery.
Originally written as a BBC radio play called Three Blind Mice, which was inspired by the true story of a boy who died in care, Christie then rewrote it as a short story, not to be published until a year after the play ended its run. That short story is still waiting, somewhere. When rewritten again as a play and transferred to the stage the title had to be changed as there was another author’s play titled Three Blind Mice already running.
Although this is supposed to be a murder mystery, director, Gary Young has, strangely, chosen to send it up and turn it into more of a comedy instead. Right from the start, the accents, that most people would refer to as ‘upper class’, and are more correctly known as ‘received pronunciation’, are pushed beyond the limits into caricature. Travis Cotton’s portrayal of Christopher Wren hovers between high camp and histrionics, while Robert Alexander, as the supposedly mysterious Mr. Paravicini, delivers lines filled with ominous portent, then laughs loudly, defusing the tension that the line was intended to build.
Admittedly, this did not seem to bother the majority of the audience, who laughed along and seemed to enjoy the production, but I know from conversations after the performance that I was not the only one who had expected to see a Christie mystery, rather than a production that was far more about the director, and had come away somewhat disappointed.
There is, of course, some humour in the script, but it has been exaggerated from the refined humour of the wealthy and educated classes of the 1940s and 50s into a broad comedy which sits uneasily and would have been somewhat socially unacceptable. Again, though, the majority of the audience would probably not have noticed and they seemed to be happy enough to laugh along.
Accents and excess comedy aside, Linda Cropper, as the obnoxious Mrs. Boyle, a person any guest house proprietor would happily strangle, gives a strong reading and convincing rendition of the role, and Nicholas Hope’s Major Metcalf has a nice military bearing as the quiet but observant retired soldier.
Gus Murray and Christy Sullivan, as Giles and Mollie Ralston, make a pleasant enough young couple, suitably flustered just by the fact that it is their first night in a new and unfamiliar business, becoming more so as events proceed, and Jacinta John is nicely aloof and crisp as the masculine Miss Casewell.
Completing the group is Detective Sergeant Trotter, played by Justin Smith as a somewhat gruff and occasionally blustery policeman with a short temper, surrounded by a collection of people, any of whom could be the murderer, triggering a brief outburst from time to time. Apart from Mrs. Boyle, who is murdered at the end of the first act, every one of them seems to have hidden secrets, and a guilty air about them.
Linda Bewick’s set design, with a layout close to that of the London set, and that recently seen in Adelaide, is a warm, heavily wood-panelled room with such an impression of solidity to its appearance that it is not hard to believe that there are many other substantial rooms running off it, and other stories above where the bedrooms are located. Matt Cox’s lighting design aids in creating this effect, changing with how many and which lights are turned on or off. Suzy Strout’s costume’s suit the period and the characters well.
The production closed to a decent round of applause, but no standing ovations were forthcoming for this lightly entertaining but rather outdated work. There are also many flaws in the writing, and it is far from one of her best pieces of work. Even she did not think it would run for very long. Perhaps it only works as well as it could in its London home, where it has 60 years of history, and that ongoing request not to reveal the culprit, giving it a sort of cult quality. In any case, it was a pleasant enough evening out for the majority of the audience and will no doubt please many more during its run.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: to Sun 28th October 2012
Duration: 2hrs 20mins (incl. interval)
Tickets: Premium $110/A reserve $99/B reserve $85
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or on line here