Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Runs: 2h 20m: one interval: till 22 June
After you’ve seen it, don’t tell anyone whodunnit.
Agatha Christie’s most famous – though not her best – thriller is nowadays played tongue in cheek. She isn’t the only writer/playwright whose work has to be, for contemporary audiences, gently or otherwise, sent up. We’re at Monkswell Manor in deepest Berkshire. Energetic newly-weds Giles and Mollie Ralston (Nick Biadon and Harriet Hare, in easily the two best performances of the evening), have inherited the place from an aunt – in every Christie classic there’s someone’s aunt lurking about in or near the plot. They’ve opened the place as a guest house this very day.
It’s a strikingly realistic set – a huge wood-panelled sitting room with roaring log fire. Outside, snow is drifting up, so you just know this is going to be a closed circle mystery. And even before the action commences, there’s been an ’orrid murder in London.
Besides the Ralstons, we have the routine clutch of stock Christie one-dimensional types. All the performances call for controlled over-acting, but it’s a weakness of the evening that Lewis Chandler, as camp young architect Christopher Wren, badly out-camps camp. To his credit though, he wears an elaborately patterned pullover, the sort unknown outside Christie thrillers.
Gwyneth Strong, as the outlandishly rude Mrs Boyle, supplies the statutory tweedy battle-axe, and John Griffiths is the no-nonsense retired Major. There are also the mannish Miss Casewell (Saski Vaigncourt-Strallen), and a creepy hand-kissing foreigner, Mr Paravincini, (David Alcock), who plays the piano with one finger – that sinister Three Blind Mice theme continually recurs.
Almost everyone turns up clad in virtually identical black outer clothing; an exception being the youthful Sergeant Trotter (Geoff Arnold, a trifle plank-like in line delivery), who arrives on skis. Uncouth and hectoring, and wearing a red pullover, he’s a far from realistic copper, but in thrillers they never are.
That early fifties period – clipped accents, terrible grub, unpredictable central heating – is nicely realised. We even get Max Miller on the wireless.
This is one to get the coat on for. But it’s a running theatrical convention that, having done so, you don’t go around telling everyone whodunnit.
Mrs Boyle: Gwyneth Strong
Mr Paravicini: David Alcock
Sgt Trotter: Geoff Arnold
Giles Ralston: Nick Biadon
Christopher Wren: Lewis Chandler
Major Metcalf: John Griffiths
Mollie Ralston: Harriett Hare
Miss Casewell: Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen
Director: Gareth Armstrong
Sound Designer: Richard Carter
Original Lighting Designer: Peter Vaughan Clark