Tag Archives: Shirley-Anne Field

Murder with Class


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 20th February, 2017


Formerly the Agatha Christie Theatre Company, the Classic Thriller Theatre Company hopes to emulate its earlier success by expanding the range of writers it draws upon, and so we have this adaptation of a Ruth Rendell novel, delivered in the company’s solid and classy style.

I don’t know if it exists in the book, never having read it, but this version, by Simon Brett and Anthony Lampard, uses the device of alternating scenes of the police investigation with flashbacks leading up to the brutal murder of the Coverdale family.  Past and present collide and keep us hooked on the developing mystery.

Sophie Ward is excellent as the dowdy housekeeper, Eunice Parchman, hiding what to her is a terrible secret.  As the detectives, Vetch and Challoner, Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon exude an air of easy professionalism.  Mark Wynter amuses as the smug patriarch George Coverdale, while Rosie Thomson as his wife is the life and soul of the household.  Joshua Price mills around as the bookish, oddball son, and Jennifer Sims brings emotional depth to her role of Melinda, the daughter home from university.  We know the family is doomed – it’s a matter of when and by whom that keeps us intrigued.  They’re all so terribly middle-class, calling each other ‘darling’ all the time, that we perhaps don’t much care about them as individuals.  Rather our sympathy lies elsewhere – but that would be telling.

The usually glamorous Shirley Anne Field dresses down as cleaner Mrs Baalham, and Deborah Grant muttons up as outlandish postmistress and religious crank, Joan Smith.  Revelation of the night (apart from the whodunit) is former Blue singer Antony Costa delivering a nice line in character acting as the reformed criminal and gardener, Rodger Meadows.

Julie Godfrey’s set epitomises the country house mystery, but it also communicates a message about the permanence of the class system – this is a story with class, in more ways than one.  Director Roy Marsden keeps the action flowing seamlessly between the two timelines, using Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design to mark when we are, as well as to highlight certain dramatic moments.

It all makes up for a solid and reliable piece of entertainment, excellently presented.  We may guess who is responsible, but when the murder scene finally arrives it is no less shocking.  Pace and tone are handled expertly to deliver the goods.

The Agatha Christie Theatre Company is dead; long live the Classic Thriller Theatre Company!


Sophie Ward (Photo: Mark Yeoman)


A Slow Death


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton,Tuesday 3rd June, 2014


Written in the 1940s and set in the 19th century, this play by Edward Percy and Reginald Denham tells of retired actress Leonora Fiske who shares her lonely marshland home with stony-faced housekeeper and confidante Ellen Creed (Erin Geraghty).  The pair are glamorous chalk and drab and dour cheese but they rub along together nicely enough until Ellen arranges for her two aged and emotionally immature sisters for an extended visit.  The old kooks are as tiresome to the audience as they are to Miss Fiske and so we understand why she wants rid of them and sharpish.   Familial devotion gets the better of the housekeeper’s loyalty and a murder is committed.  The second half of this over-long piece is concerned with bringing the murder to light.

It’s not without its moments.  There are some amusing lines of dialogue and some members of the audience gasped audibly a number of times.  It’s just that the play takes a long time to get where it’s going – and that’s not very far.

As faded chorine, Miss Fiske, Shirley Ann Field still cuts an elegant figure, speaking with her distinctive “lived-in” voice.  Being the start of the tour, I expect the lines will settle in and the whole thing will pick up its pace.  Erin Geraghty is suitably stern as the treacherous housekeeper, and Karen Ford and Sylvia Carson do a good job as the irritating old dears, little girls in old women’s bodies.

The show really comes to life whenever Lucy the maid (Melissa Clements) and cocky geezer Albert Feather (Christopher Hogben) are on stage.  These two bring energy to their characters and their scenes, lifting us out of the doldrums.

Gradually, the drama takes hold but director Ian Dickens needs to do something about the handling of the murder that ends the first half.  A quicker blackout would be more effective and I’m not sure about the pre-recorded, protracted scream as the curtain falls.  Also, it is laughably obvious that the cast are not actually playing the on-stage piano; if it were angled differently, this could be masked to avoid our cringes and derision.

Ian Marston’s set adds to the atmosphere and period feel but this slow-burner needs an accelerant to ignite our interest earlier on.  A big hit in its day, it may be time for Ladies in Retirement to be put out to grass. 


Smashing Widows

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 27th June, 2012

Ivan Menchell’s play features three Jewish widows in New York so you know as soon as the curtain rises that the dialogue is going to be laced with a particular kind of humour. The women kvetch and take verbal swipes at each other in a gently amusing manner.

There is Lucille (Shirley-Anne Field) who is all fur coat and high heels, claiming to live life to the fullest by ‘playing the field’. There is Doris (Anne Charleston – Madge off of Neighbours) who is still hopelessly devoted to her late spouse to the extent that it impinges on her every mood. There is Ida (Anita Harris who must be gene-spliced with Peter Pan) who is willing to make tentative steps into moving on with her life. They make for an amusing trio and pleasant company.

And that’s about it.

The plot doesn’t really go anywhere. Every month the women meet at Ida’s home and travel together to the cemetery wherein their husbands are buried. They meet widower Sam (Peter Ellis, whose Noo Yoik accent was the most consistent) and he and Ida embark on a cautious romance. This budding relationship is thrown into brief jeopardy when the other two women warn him off, but after an almighty piss-up at a friend’s (offstage) wedding, recriminations and reconciliations are made. It takes the death of one of the women to make the survivors disband the Cemetery Club and get on with their lives. It has taken them long enough.

Shirley-Anne Field is very good as glamorous but brittle Lucille. Anne Charleston has a voice like peppered chocolate, rough and rich and well-suited to her sardonic character. But for me the real treat was seeing Anita Harris sparkle as the cautious, nervous Ida, suddenly finding herself an awkward schoolgirl again as she comes out of her shell with Sam.

Debbie Norman’s cameo as Mildred, Sam’s alternative date to the wedding, is such a striking portrayal you wonder what Sam sees in her. Her laugh could chop liver and her scene injects energy into the second act.

All in all it was a pleasant if inconsequential couple of hours. I was glad to see roles for older actresses that don’t involve them posing for novelty calendars or learning how to pole dance.