NIGHT MUST FALL
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 28th September, 2016
The Original Theatre company, purveyors of classic plays, now brings us Emlyn Williams’s 1935 thriller, in their solid and dependable – and entertaining! – fashion. Directed by Luke Sheppard, the production is not short on tension and suspense, even if you know who the murderer is – or perhaps especially because of this knowledge. Sheppard also brings out the humour of Williams’s script via an ensemble of superlative character actors.
Gwen Taylor stars as the irascible Mrs Bramson, a grumpy curmudgeon who has to pay people to spend time with her. This includes her niece as well as the domestic staff. Taylor brings energy to this hypochondriac harridan and we enjoy seeing her taken in when psychopathic Dan plays to her vanities.
Niamh McGrady is bookish niece Olivia, the voice of reason in the piece, although she is seduced by the dark side into acts of moral ambivalence. Alasdair Buchan’s Hubert, a hapless suitor, is all plus fours and bluff bonhomie, while Daragh O’Malley’s Inspector Belsize has an easy powerfulness to his presence. Anne Odeke is good fun as Nurse Libby in her brief appearances, while Melissa Vaughan’s housemaid Dora, a girl ‘in trouble’ thanks to the aforementioned psycho, is chirpily melodramatic. Most enjoyable though is Mandi Symonds as housekeeper/cook Mrs Terence, an hilarious counterpart to Taylor’s old battle-ax.
It is Will Featherstone who commands the attention as the enigmatic and charming chancer, Dan who, having got Dora up the duff, insinuates himself into the household as a companion/carer for the old woman. On the surface, Dan is a lively, funny presence but Olivia’s suspicions are aroused at once. Featherstone gives us charm and an undercurrent of threat, breaking out into flashes of insanity and derangement. It’s a compelling portrayal of a psychopathic character – pre-Hitchcock, it has to be noted – and also Williams’s script seems to be a precursor of the comedy of menace of Harold Pinter, with its naturalistic turns of phrase and its violent outbursts.
The production grips, amuses and thrills, showing the play still works like a charm and with its theme of our fascination with murder, it is still current, both admonishing the audience’s appetite for such subject matter and giving us exactly what we want.
Will Featherstone as Dan (Photo: Alastair Muir)