17th November 2015
This typical Agatha Christie whodunit set in 1951 features neither of her two famous sleuths – Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot – but true to form does include a police inspector and a constable. Set in the sumptuous garden room of “the Hollow”, Sir Henry Angkatell’s house outside London, most of the characters are related to each other as direct family, cousins or distant cousins.
Agatha Christie’s style is so well known and loved by countless millions that many of us were transported back in time, in my case to when I was a teenager discovering her genius.
The basic set with doors centre stage right and left, plus French windows upstage has been used several times previously by EP with the various furnishings being the only difference this time. Though the set was somewhat familiar, nonetheless it was most realistic for the period.
The typically complicated plot involving a weekend stay for family and friends, a person shot dead and later a poisoning inadvertently taken by the poisoner (and murderer) herself. Spiced with clandestine love affairs and jealousies, a love of sculpture and art, shooting ranges, drinks table, a drama queen film star and even the requisite butler, this intriguing plot gave full scope for the cast of twelve to display their acting skills.
Henrietta Angkatell, a sculptress clad in dungarees, clay on face, clothes and hands and younger cousin to Sir Henry, owner of “The Hollow” was skilfully and realistically played by Angela Richardson.
Lady Lucy, wife of Sir Henry, was amusingly played by Wendy Davies who gave her a charming absent mindedness and general dottiness. An engaging character, she caught the eye throughout.
Mike Richardson was the upper class Sir Henry, sober minded, somewhat dull and contrasting well with his socialite wife. A well pitched performance.
As the first guest to arrive for the weekend Julia Allen-Patel as Midge Harvey, another Angkatell cousin entered, prettily attired in a fetching floral dress and secretly in love with Edward Angkatell, yet another cousin, tastefully referred to as a “distant” cousin. This role provided Julia with the opportunity to use her wide range of nuanced acting skills.
Bill Pilcher was the faithful butler Gudgeon at the heart of all family business. He is clearly a highly experienced actor and gave the faithful retainer all his natural charisma. To his credit he deftly ad-libbed in character when a letter accidentally fell offstage from the waste paper basket and was retrieved by an audience member. An amusing and impressive retrieval of a situation that may well have thrown a lesser actor!
Ben Aveyard was Edward Angkatell, secretly in love with Henrietta, but himself loved by Midge, whom he finally chose after much emotional turmoil. Another good performance.
Doris, the maid, was well played by Victoria Arnold in this smaller, but important role.
Arrogant Dr. John Cristow and his outwardly timid, fretful wife Gerda were both given beautifully contrasting characters and played by Barry Harrison-Fudge and Tricia Cooper respectively. As the womanising devil may care Doctor, Barry was top notch and so too was Tricia as the tragic Gerda. Her crying scene was beautifully handled.
Jay Garland invested film star and ego on legs Veronica Craye with all the necessary charisma and glamour in acting skills expected of an actress playing a film actress.
Finally, the two coppers Inspector Colquhoun, given a decency but world weary cynicism by Terry Ward and Sergeant Penny, clever but dutiful, portrayed by Felix Cuthbert. Felix looked very young for a police Sergeant, but his acting showed more experience than his youthful features might suggest.
Directing was in the experienced hands of Marian Heathcote, whose conception of this well written play, the choice and direction of the cast was, frankly, impressive. Together with Roland Butcher, Marian also designed the well furnished and skilfully laid out set.
The important details of hair by Sophie Shickell and wardrobe by Anne Lyth were painstakingly carried out by both ladies.
There was little to dislike about this first night performance, the odd prompt or two apart. I was impressed by this show and much enjoyed my evening, as did the audience.