SIDMOUTH – SIDMOUTH SUMMER PLAY FESTIVAL
MANOR PAVILION THEATRE
MURDER WITH LOVE by Francis Durbridge
2 hours 30 minutes – 1 interval
Manor Pavilion Theatre Box Office – 01395 514413
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 9 JULY 2021
I suspect there are very few people under the age of 50 who would have heard of Francis Durbridge or, indeed, seen or heard much of his work. In the 1950’s and 1960’s he must have been one of the most prolific writers for TV and radio. He turned more to the theatre in the 1970’s, but the thriller is not what it was and if there isn’t an emphasis on police procedural matters, then it won’t cut the mustard, or so it seems.
Durbridge was the master of the twist and turn, the convolution and the sudden surprise. He could lead the audience up a path and back again and they would be unaware that around the next corner there was yet another suspect – hang on, isn’t that the 10th suspect?
Plots come and go, but Durbridge could create such dense and complex storylines that a second viewing might be needed to actually untangle it in your mind; such is the case with Murder With Love, written in 1976.
Set in two locations, the story concerns the relationship between two men, Larry Campbell and David Ryder who have crossed swords in the past, developing into a dangerous web of blackmail, corruption and threats. Further than that it is difficult to go without revealing plotlines, suffice to say, the writer keeps people guessing as bodies and suspects line up.
The double-aspect set – a smart, well-appointed drawing room and an evocatively designed apartment living room of the period in which the play was written and set – is another splendid piece of design work from Andrew Beckett.
Picking their way through the intricacies of the story, the actors approach the somewhat dated dialogue with verve and conviction. James Pellow, as the main suspect, David Ryder, offers a solid and cleverly ambiguous performance – is this mild-mannered man a murderer? Who knows? Joseph Clowser combines shiftiness and charm as Larry Campbell; again, it is so difficult tell the good from the bad! Likewise, is Claire Louise Amias (who offers the audience suspect and victim in equal measure), as Clare Norman, a femme fatale or an innocent victim? And does the rather too inquisitive Jo Mitchell, performed by Heather Wilkins, got more to hide than she let’s on? And what about the ‘jack-the-lad’ blackmailer, George Rudd – a nicely crafted portrayal of arrogance and seediness from Owen Landon. All is in the hands of Inspector Cleaver of the Yard; the ‘I’m one step ahead of you all’ type of copper which Jonathan Ray performs with utter relish. Sterling work also from Jeremy Todd as Ryder’s business associate, Dominic McChesney as Campbell’s brother and Hilary Harwood stealing the scene with every appearance as Ryder’s housekeeper Mrs Bedford.
The seven-scene play flits between days and locations, but it isn’t particularly obvious where we are in the time the story covers – maybe the lighting could help more? Or maybe it doesn’t matter.
Max Bex Roberts skilfully directs with cast around the small stage area without ever making it feel awkward or cluttered. Durbridge writes lengthy expositions with only occasional climax’s and this makes for a rather one-paced presentation. It isn’t easy to change this, but maybe at times delivery is just too measured and the production drags a little – running at well over two hours, it is too long for its content.
These matters apart, this is a well presented and performed production of a thriller which, while certainly not the best in the catalogue, does make you think and wonder at the writer’s ability to devise such a detailed story which will give most a real surprise by the time the final curtain falls.
LARRY CAMPBELL – JOSEPH CLOWSER
JO MITCHELL – HEATHER WILKINS
MRS BEDFORD – HILARY HARWOOD
ERNEST FOSTER – JEREMY TODD
DAVID RYDER – JAMES PELLOW
GEORGE RUDD – OWEN LANDON
ROY CAMPBELL – DOMINIC MCCHESNEY
CLARE NORMAN – CLAIRE LOUSE AMIAS
CLEAVER – JONATHAN RAY
WRITER – FRANCIS DURBRIDGE
DIRECTOR – MAX BEX ROBERTS
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – STAGE TECHNICAL SERVICES LTD.
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
SEASON PRODUCER – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS