STONE COLD MURDER
by James Cawood.
The Mill at Sonning Sonning Eye nr Reading RG4 6TY To 26 July 2014.
Tue-Sat Dinner 6.30pm + Performance 8.15pm.
Mat Sat & 10, 17, 24 July Lunch 12.30pm + Performance 2.15pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0118 969 8000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 July.
The plot’s the thing – and this has plenty stored-up.
The least that can be expected of a thriller is that it should thrill. It’s pretty much the most that can be expected of it, too. Scares and surprises aren’t generally helped by overmuch concentration on character, and psychology can rarely go much beyond motive without throwing attention from the enjoyment of what will happen next and why some character is behaving as they are in terms of an ulterior, external purpose.
A lonely setting helps, such as this remote out-of-season Lake District hotel. Howling wind is audible when the French windows are opened, and playwright James Cawood replaces the traditional ‘phone lines being down with a modern, more credible equivalent, the mobile with no signal.
Cawood is quite skilful in revealing what various criminal activities are about, unlike his simpler back-story of how Olivia and Robert came to own the hotel. This emerges in a rather obvious for-the-audience’s-benefit conversation early on. When trouble arrives, we are invited to digest at least six improbable things before curtain-time.
Not that the Mill has a curtain as such. But there’s one across the window entry on Tony Eden’s detailed set – which artfully mixes realism with practicality during the developing action. Yet this curtain won’t close when Robert tries early in act one. Though the action is continuous, it slides easily shut when another character tries it in act two.
Is this significant – why did Robert want the curtain left open? Or was it accidental, with stage management sorting-out a problem during the interval? Such details don’t matter much – except in a plot-driven thriller like this.
A more important matter is what’s driving the character finally left alive. There’s an element of underplaying in Sue Wilson’s production which leaves their motivation and degree of awareness doubtful. Still, psychological depth, as previously said, would not be to the good of the thrill factor.
Far better, there’s at least one gasp-out-loud moment, and other surprises for suspended disbeliefs. Both writing and production employ silences and waiting particularly well, building that sense of anticipation which is a significant feature of tension in modern labyrinthine plots.
Olivia Chappell: Elinor Lawless.
Robert Chappell: Elliot Chapman.
Ramsey: Paul Brendan.
Sam Stone: Nick Waring.
Director: Sue Wilson.
Designer: Tony Eden.
Lighting: Matthew Biss.
Costume: Jane Kidd.
Fight director: Philip D’Orléans.