Tag Archives: whodunit

Murder with Class

A JUDGMENT IN STONE

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!

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Sophie Ward (Photo: Mark Yeoman)

 

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Caught Again!

THE MOUSETRAP

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 29th June, 2015

 

Still the longest-running play in London, Agatha Christie’s legendary whodunit continues to tour in this production first mounted a couple of years ago to mark the 60th anniversary. And the tour is still going strong – in fact, catching it again two years on, I think it’s going stronger.

Knowing who dun it doesn’t detract from your enjoyment of the piece. It’s fun to spot all the red herrings and misdirection Christie builds in, as well as the clues she seeds in from the offset.

Giles and Mollie Ralston receive their first guests to their new venture, a country house hotel. Unfortunately, it’s snowing and won’t stop and, down in London, there’s been a murder. Christie introduces us to a range of oddball characters, each of them suspicious in their own way, before trapping them in the house and cutting them off from the outside world, and bumping one of them off… The killer from London is among them!

What makes it fun – and some of the outmoded attitudes (a character’s campness is regarded as a mental aberration!) palatable – is the expert playing by the ensemble, who capture the larger-than-life characters without too much exaggeration. Director Ian Watt-Smith brings out the humour of the piece as well as the suspense and tension. It’s a delicious watch.

As Giles Ralston, Mark Homer is suitably charming and yet pompous – and sounds a little like David Mitchell! Esther McAuley is his Mrs, Mollie, again pulling off the period accent with aplomb and, later, showing sensitivity and emotional depth (not something you see often with Christie’s characters). Anne Kavanagh is bombastic old biddy Mrs Boyle, William Ilkley is bluff old cove Major Metcalf, but their colourfulness is topped by Jonathan Sidgwick’s outrageous Italian, Mr Paravicini, who turns up unannounced. Also striking in this performance is Jocasta King, standing in as young-woman-in-trousers Miss Casewell. Conducting an investigation is Luke Jenkins’s energetic Sergeant Trotter but it’s the most extrovert character, the vigorous Christopher Wren (an irrepressible Edward Elgood) who cuts the biggest dash – irritating, overbearing and yet funny and touching, Elgood elicits an Ahhh from the audience at one point, so enjoyable is his portrayal.

Christie’s plot moves like clockwork, drawing us in and getting our minds working. I think I enjoyed it more the second time around.

William Ilkley, Edward Elgood and Esther McAuley feeling the pinch of The Mousetrap

William Ilkley, Edward Elgood and Esther McAuley feeling the pinch of The Mousetrap