Directed by Dexter Whitehead
A magnificent stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s best selling novel is being performed at the award-winning Sutton Arts Theatre. Under the strong direction of Dexter Whitehead, this excellently cast production brings the chilling murder story to life... right in front of your eyes!
The story, set in the late 1930s, takes place in a large house on the remote Soldier Island off the coast of Devon. The guests have received personal invitations from millionaire owners Ulrick and Una Owens. Mysteriously, having accepted the invitations, the guests discover that none of them actually know the Owens. The Owens never arrive (surprise surprise) and the guests become trapped as sole inhabitants of the island when a storm breaks out at sea. A somewhat creepy, framed print of nursery rhyme ‘Ten Little Soldier Boys’ hangs above the drawing room fireplace and the sinister pattern of deaths that follow thrillingly coincide with the verses in the rhyme, along with the mysterious disappearances of the soldier figurines that were placed upon the mantelpiece before they arrived.
It takes a strong and competent cast to deliver a play of this complexity and the actors really have excelled. The portrayal and attitudes of the personalities are spot-on for the era, as is the diction, interaction and pace of conversation. Put this together with a luxurious set and truly excellent lighting scheme and you have a show that I am sure Christie herself would have thoroughly approved of.
Roger Shepherd and Jenny Gough play the busy house servants, Shepherd maintaining a gentle and willing disposition in opposition to his wife’s more spit-spot and ship-shape manner. Phebe Jackson portrays a perfectly gorgeous and flirtatious Vera Claythorne playing mainly against Robbie Newton as the handsome, chivalrous and self-preserving Captain Phillip Lombard, a former mercenary soldier with sharp wit and survival instinct.
The young, wealthy and reckless Anthony Marston is played energetically by Giles Wharton, portraying Marston’s perfectly wizard sense of humour and later delighting the audience with a most dramatic dying scene that in itself deserves an Oscar. Richard Howell plays William Blore, the South African millionaire Mr Davis who is later revealed as an undercover former policeman. Blore tries in vain to unravel the murder mystery, only to meet with a grizzly end.
Paul Westcott is the retired WW1 hero, General Mackenzie, an all-doom-and-gloom character strong in stature, reminiscent, yet ridden with guilt over a former crime. Theatre stalwart Dorothy Goodwin plays Emily Brent, the religious, respectable and remorseless spinster with a delightful and wicked style of cynicism. Goodwin’s many years of stage experience ensures the character is played whole heartedly with convincing sarcasm, her dramatic bible reading adding to the already chilling atmosphere.
Patrick Richmond-Ward, another of SAT’s stalwarts, is perfectly cast as the sullen Sir Lawrence Wargrave, portraying the retired old judge with his unquestionable air of authority, leading the investigation with a strong sense of justice. The quiet and gentle Dr. Armstrong is played by Mark Nattrass. Armstrong’s medical knowledge draws suspicions amongst the other guests and he is often labelled as a suspect. Nattrass portrays the teetotal character brilliantly and leaves us guessing as the doctor's past crime is revealed.
The cast is supported by Lee Connelly as Fred Narracott and Ian Eaton as Ulick Owen, who make brief yet poignant appearances.
The old saying ‘tis the light that brings it to life’ is celebrated in this play. The changes of lighting throughout the day are brilliantly designed, whether against the balcony sea-view, the evening sunset, the drawing room candlelight or the forked lightning - the lighting design captures and sets each scene. And even rain against the outside windows demonstrates the level of detail the production team has gone to. Great sound design, musical interludes and sfx - a couple of cheeky jump-scares are cleverly weaved into the plot to keep the audiences on their toes.
Those who know the story will undoubtedly enjoy this version - and those who don't will be kept amused throughout and and applaud a jolly good Whodunnit ending.
SAT are known for their beautiful and well constructed set designs, furniture, props and costumes and this production has certainly captured every element of great acting, production technique, continuity and whole entertainment value celebrated by professional companies.
Great entertainment. Well worth a ticket.
Runs to 8 September
Contains smoking on stage
Mischief Theatre have, quite rightly, developed an unenviable reputation for physical comedy in a relatively short space of time. Formed as an Improvisational Comedy Troupe by students at LAMDA 10 years ago, their first scripted play, The Play That Goes Wrong, landed riotously in 2013 and they’ve not looked back since. Quickly followed up by Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Mischief’s pattern of silent movie style slapstick with very inventive (deliberately) collapsing scenery, all brilliantly timed and energetically performed, have thrilled audiences in London, on tour in the UK, and on Broadway.
I first saw Mischief’s 2016 television adaptation of Peter Pan… and loved every second of it; just about the most inventive piece of theatre I’d ever seen. They followed this up with A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, their first piece written not for the stage and, in my opinion, a minor miss-step. Funny, certainly, but it didn’t seem to hold together as well as their other work that had been developed and honed over many years of workshops and performances.
And so to my first sight of Mischief in the flesh, with the opening night of their first UK tour of The Comedy about a Bank Robbery at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. In a departure from their two previous scripted shows Mischief’s writers Henry Shields, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer present a self-contained theatrical farce, rather than the premise of the previous shows being presented by the inept students of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society. This is, I feel, a small mistake, as the style of their writing and performance requires such an exaggerated quality to the presentation that is excused by the deliberately bad Am-Dram style production. Here a couple of the early scenes seem to creak a little under the weight of the extravagant delivery, until the physical comedy takes over and the play really finds it’s feet.
Mark Bell’s inventive production (restaged for the tour by Kirsty Patrick Ward) has a real bravura swagger to it, building up sight gag upon sight gag, so fast in the best scenes that you really are struggling to breath in between all the gasps of laughter. The sight of a pull down bed immediately brings ideas of physical comedy to mind. The breathless energy of the performers moves it onto another level entirely.
The uniformly excellent cast are led by Liam Jeavons and Julia Frith as the bank robbers Mitch and Caprice, who’s antics on the bed are witnessed by the hapless Sam (Sean Carey). His numerous comic efforts to leave the room only end up escalating the situation further. Neil Cooper as Mitch’s dumb accomplice Coomber is a delight, and Damian Lynch’s bank manager Robin Freeboys ( his nephew Roger Freeboys also appears; yes the verbal humour is quite happy to be amusingly lavatorial) is wonderfully pompous and confused. Best of all is Jon Trenchard as 67 year old intern Warren Slax. Poignant as well as funny, Trenchard is also on the receiving end of some serious slapstick beating. He is also involved in the most inventive piece of staging of the evening, a scene where we look down on the office from above. I’ll leave you to try and work out how that is staged! The excellent cast is completed by Ashley Tucker as Sam’s mum Ruth, leading the shows frequent 50s style do-wop numbers with very stylish vocals; Killian Macardle as the well meaning but unfortunate cop Shuck; and George Hannigan as “Everyone Else”, his official programme title. This does not do him justice. The one-man-playing-3-characters-having-a-fight slapstick scene is an utter delight.
The script is sometimes not as funny as it would like to be; one early scene, which very little physical comedy, does drag. But once the Marx Brothers style humour takes over the show really picks up, and Act 2 is nothing short of inspired. The cast perform with such confidence, energy and trust in each other and the material that you cannot help but get taken by them on a very very silly journey of inspired lunacy. The press night audience greeted the show with great warmth, and the 12 year old Junior Reviewer with me stated that it was, without doubt, the best thing she’d ever seen. High praise indeed!!
The Comedy about a Bank Robbery is at Birmingham Rep until 8th September, and then on tour around the UK until June 2019.
As I left The Old Joint Stock into St Paul’s Square, Birmingham, I saw a sizeable section of my fellow audience members from this evening’s performance all climbing rather delicately into a small coach. Judging by the amount of glasses and bottles left behind by these ladies (for this party was entirely female) inside the auditorium of this pub theatre, I think they had decided before they arrived that they were going to have a good time, whatever happened on stage. Judging by the audience response after the climactic dance routine I’m sure however that their enjoyment was not simply down to the amount of alcohol consumed in this beautiful old public house.
I was certain very early that the audience would be in for a great evening out, as this is a production packed with performances right out of the top drawer. The vocals throughout the show were universally excellent and David Yazbek’s funky and colourful score was confidently delivered, whether it be the powerhouse ladies in It’s a woman’s world or Jeanette’s Showbiz Number; or the beautifully poignant men with Breeze off the river and You walk with me. The balance with the band in the attic, lead by MD Jack Hopkins was excellent, and we never felt overpowered in the small venue. But what struck me most in this production, however, was the quality of the acting. The immediacy and intimacy affords afforded by the size of the venue lent the dramatic scenes in Terrence McNally’s book a power I’d not seen in previous productions.
Pam Lukowski has always felt a bit superfluous when I’ve seen the show previously, particularly as she has relatively little to do in the big musical numbers. Here, played strongly by Auriol Hatcher she was right in the centre of the drama, a catalyst pushing her ex-husband Jerry to desperate ends. Alex Wadham holds the show together in the central role with energy and sensitivity and the scenes between the couple and also Jerry and his son Nathan (played by James Blake-Butler on press night) were beautifully played.
Oliver Britten and Sam Carlyle were perfectly matched as overweight, depressed Dave and his supportive wife Georgie. The closeness of their relationship was palpable in the second You rule my world. The show’s other couple Harold and Vicki (Jenefer Tripp and Rhys Owen) also formed a well-balanced partnership, both in their opening Latin number and the more poignant later scenes. The burgeoning friendship of Jack Ballard’s Ethan and Duncan Burt’s Malcolm was likewise beautifully judged and entirely believable. Kirstie Cartwright and Aaron Mwale have the always unenviable task of aging up but both do it with confidence, with both their numbers being joyous highlights of the show. Brad Walwyn was also excellent as the camp stripper who sets the show in motion (as well as supporting the company in a variety of cameos).
Credit to director Adam Lacey and the cast for getting pacing of the show so well. The big numbers were all delivered with confidence and energy, but the delicate scenes were never overshadowed. Quite the opposite in fact; they were the beating heart of this production and gave the show a real depth I’d not appreciated before.
And so to the Finale of the production and I don’t think I’ve seen a dance routine performed with more sheer enjoyment and fun for a long time. Choreographer Pippa Lacey has whipped the men into shape (of sorts!) and produced a finale that is both amateurish in style but professional in delivery. Let’s just say it doesn’t disappoint and left the audience on their feet, and justifiably so. Old Joint Stock has another triumph on it’s hands.
The show runs at until 1st September.
Love Midlands Theatre
Sharing the latest theatre news and reviews around the Midlands.