by Robert Thomas translated by Donald Sturrock.
Southwark Playhouse Shipwright Yardcorner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 9 April 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3.15pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 March.
Comedy becomes the enemy of suspense.
Long popular at home in France, Robert Thomas’s family crime play reaches England through Borealis Theatre and Oblique House. Donald Sturrock’s English version shifts the action twenty years forward to 1980 while adapting French details to an English setting.
It’s an unusual piece, a play with an all-female cast, eight members of a family, any of whom could have killed the (male) head of the house, written by a man, with no trace of a female, let alone feminist, focus. The opposite – the offstage man is widely liked. Or so it seems.
For the investigation of what happened, and who did any of it, reveals hidden agendas among three generations of those born or married into the Peterson family. As their secret nocturnal visits to the victim’s room are exposed, the play takes on a similarity to one of the more intriguing, if forgotten, crime dramas from the thirties West End stage.
What such material needs is claustrophobic tension. Yet Elgiva Field’s production dissipates this wilfully. Designer Anna Bliss Scully provides an environmental set that spreads round the audience. And among them – there’s practicality in having the bedroom in question at the top of a ready-made staircase, but it puts a focal point out of sight and mind.
Subliminally, there’s a sense of possible escape rather than confinement, despite the snowdrifts trapping the family. Which introduces another problem. There’s still an audience for the Agatha Christie whodunit – and Thomas adds the ‘and who might do-it-again, to one of us’ element of And Then There Were None.
But since Tom Stoppard’s Real Inspector Hound mocked traditional whodunits by dismissing them as just one element of a one-act play, or Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth introduced new games-playing complexities, the straight-faced thriller has often become a matter for laughter.
Despite which, there’s a place for visceral suspense in theatre. Alas, Field’s variable cast opt for a tone that discourages engagement with characters and encourages laughter. It makes Thomas’s conclusion, tricky to handle but potentially sharply pointed, seem merely comic, rather than the summation of all the audience – and not only they – has heard.
Maureen McLoughlin: Maxine Howard.
Louise: Alice Anthony.
Alice Coyle: Tamara Hinchco.
Susanne Peterson: Kate Ward.
Goneril Peterson: Bernice Stegers.
Regan Coyle: Sasha Waddell.
Catherine Peterson: Sophie Kennedy Clark.
Diana ‘Zinka’ Peterson: Clara Anderson.
Director: Elgiva Field.
Designer/Costume: Anna Bliss Scully.
Lighting: Nicki Brown.
Sound: Rob Lewis.
Assistant director: Sam Pallis.
Assistant designer/costume: Amelia Hankin.