Tag Archives: Anna Andresen

A Bit of Old Cheese


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 31st October, 2016


Running in the West End since 1952, the touring production of Agatha Christie’s celebrated play started a few years back and is still doing the rounds.  It’s my third time seeing it but knowing ‘who done it’ means you can spot the clues, false trails and red herrings Christie builds in.  The characters are drawn in broad strokes – it seems to me the playing seems more heightened this time round – and the situation is contrived for maximum tension: a mixed bag of guests arrive at a newly-opened, remote guest house, find themselves snowed in and cut off, while the radio gives word of a murderer at large… It’s a kind of cosy chiller, if that’s not an oxymoron.  A bit of old cheese that can still entrap an audience.

Nick Barclay and Anna Andresen are likable enough as the proprietors, Giles and Mollie Ralston.  He treads the thin line between decent cove and out-and-out boor; she is spirited and keen and, above all, domesticated.  Christie gives us three types of female here: the pleasant, obliging Mrs Ralston, the formidable battle-ax Mrs Boyle (Sarah Whitlock getting her teeth into the role) and unconventional modern girl, Miss Casewell (Amy Downham) who flouts decency by wearing trousers.

Oliver Gully gives an energised performance as camp extrovert (read: homosexual) Christopher Wren and does more than scream his way through the part.  Gully also manages to evoke sympathy as he alludes to the rough treatment he has received because of who he is.  That homosexuality is regarded as a mental aberration by the like of Mrs Boyle is an attitude I hope is consigned to the past…

Tony Boncza’s Major Metcalf is a fine spot of character acting.  Also, Gregory Cox as the ‘unexpected foreigner’ Mr Paravicini pulls out all the stops in an outlandish depiction, falling short of actually chewing the scenery.  Lewis Collier’s Sgt Trotter gets the tone right but sometimes his accent muddies his diction and we lose some of his lines.

It adds up to a lot of fun.  Director Ian Watt-Smith brings out more laughs than you might expect – especially during the first half before the murderer makes a move.  Christie keeps us suspecting everyone in turn before the moment of revelation.

I suppose the show’s enduring appeal is that it’s a throwback to an England that never really existed (the Shangri-La that Brexit voters seem to hanker for) and I’d like to think it’s something of a museum piece and the xenophobic and anti-gay sentiments expressed are all behind us now… If only!!

Dramatically, the play still works and this is a solid, well-mounted production that is reliably entertaining.  See it if you haven’t already.  If you have, it’s worth a second look, although perhaps not a third.


A scream! Oliver Gully as Christopher Wren (Photo: Liza Maria Dawson)


Ice Screams All Round


Birmingham Hippodrome, Thursday 8th January, 2015


In a new departure for the Hippodrome, the Patrick Centre – usually home to dance productions – is being used to stage a play. While the pantomime extravaganza is still having it large in the main house, this is a chance for a more intimate experience and – well, it turns out to be quite an experience.

Unfortunately for reviewers, the play is one of those pieces we daren’t say too much about for fear of spoiling it for those who see it after us. I will give you a taste of the set-up, though.

It’s 1928, and bright young hedonists Tony (Andrew Dowbiggin) and Madeline (Anna Andresen) are on their way to a fancy dress party at a house, a very big house in the country. A fall of snow maroons them in a disused hunting lodge and presently they are joined by other lost partygoers. There is predatory lesbian Jinty (Victoria John) and upper class twit Roger (Christopher Green – who also directs and co-wrote the script). It’s all cut-glass accents and bad behaviour, until mysterious events, um, eventuate… I don’t want to go into it, but this cod potboiler delivers laughs and chills by the bucketful.   Barney George’s set, all antlers, dust covers and icicles, along with lighting by Katy Morison and effects by Oliver Meech, all help the cast create an atmosphere of suspense and dread…

The script by Green and novelist Sarah Waters keeps the surprises coming. I fear I’m spoiling it by saying there are surprises in it. Expect the unexpected, I will say and, to echo a recurring line from the play, “Trust no one.”

Oh, and the fabulous Rula Lenska is in it, bringing a touch of class to the proceedings as Lady Agatha.

It all adds up to a hugely entertaining piece of theatrical cleverness. Truly sensational – in the literary sense of the term, The Frozen Scream is something new for the Hippodrome and I hope heralds a renaissance of smaller-scale productions in one of the country’s largest theatres.