SIDMOUTH – SIDMOUTH SUMMER PLAY FESTIVAL
MANOR PAVILION THEATRE
THE UNEXPECTED GUEST by Agatha Christie
2 hours 30 minutes – 1 interval
Manor Pavilion Theatre Box Office – 01395 514413
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 11 JULY 2022
Disregard the power of Agatha Christie at your peril. At her best she is a theatrical powerhouse and in the hands of a director with nous and imagination can be a phenomenal stage treat. In this production, Jason Moore is just that director.
First performed in 1958, THE UNEXPECTED GUEST was an original play rather than one based on one of Christie’s own novels. It has an unusual structure, the murder takes place before the curtain opens and as the action continues you understand more about the victim as the number of suspects pile up. As ever with Christie, the plotting is intricate and brilliant and the twists and turns are sharp and surprising and as unexpected as the guest in the title.
The opening scene of this production is hugely atmospheric; darkness, silhouettes, a fog horn, a torch flashing around a room and an urgent, sinister atonal sound underscoring the action (the same sound returns throughout and is mightily effective); it has a Hitchcockian vibe and the audience is sucked in from the word go. What follows is wordy but absorbing throughout thanks to the direction and a cast who flesh out the rather two-dimensional characters which Agatha Christie sometimes writes.
Steve Blacker-Barrowman is compelling as Michael Starkwedder – the titular ‘Unexpected Guest’ – he dictates the lengthy opening exposition with great skill along with Julia Main who is totally convincing as the victim’s wife, Laura; she can portray panic and fluster as well as anyone. Jill Stanford is stately and commanding as the matriarch of the family that is caught up in the murder of Richard Warwick; who we discover isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, and Marion Tovey is spot-on in her portrayal as the fussy, loyal Miss Bennett.
Brendan Matthew patently has a ball as the obsequious manservant Henry Angell – if his portrayal doesn’t make your flesh creep then you are barely human; a performance brimming with character. Dominic McChesney is equally unsympathetic as Julian Farrar; if you want to see ‘disdain’ dished out with ease, then this is a performance to watch. In his first professional stage role, Brandon Eady plays the teenager Jan: in the script the character is referred to as ‘retarded’ – a different era, as we would most likely suggest the he is somewhere on the Autistic Spectrum. A happy character, but with issues and who speaks about what he sees without filters; it is a role which could be played for laughs, but here it is performed with great observation and skill; it is utterly captivating and touching – a debut of immense promise. Investigating the crime is the ever-excellent James Pellow as the no-nonsense Inspector and Gareth Thomas who is joyful as the poetry-loving Sergeant Cadwallader complete with cheeky asides and a cracking Welsh accent.
This is not a regular production of an Agatha Christie play; it feels fresh, energetic and stylish. Much thought has been put into elevating the norm into something very special. Skilfully directed and performed on a beautifully realised set, augmented by atmospheric lighting and sound, the audience are entranced throughout and left stunned at the final curtain.
Don’t miss this complete treat! ‘THE UNEXPECTED GUEST’ runs until 16 July and tickets are available on www.manorpavilion.com and 01395 514413
The Summer Play Festival continues with the wonderful farce ‘CHARLEY’S AUNT by Brandon Thomas playing from 18-23 July.
CAST & CREATIVES
MICHAEL STARKWEDDER – STEVE BLACKER-BARROWMAN
LAURA WARWICK – JULIA MAIN
RICHARD WARWICK/JULIAN FARRAR – DOMINIC MCCHESNEY
MISS BENNETT – MARION TOVEY
JAN WARWICK – BRANDON EADY
MRS WARWICK – JILL STANFORD
HENRY ANGELL – BRENDON MATTHEW
INSPECTOR THOMAS – JAMES PELLOW
SERGEANT CADWALLADER – GARETH THOMAS
WRITER – AGATHA CHRISTIE
DIRECTOR – JASON MOORE
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – JOE UNDERWOOD
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS
SEASON PRODUCER – CLAIRE EVANS