by Agatha Christie.

The Agatha Christie Company Tour to 18 September.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 May at Richmond Theatre.

Court-room Christie contrivance with a remarkable central character.
A midweek matinee crowd reaching towards the Richmond rafters testifies Agatha Christie can still pull ‘em in, without a notable star onstage, and despite many being likely to know the end of a play whose main purpose is to keep people guessing.

Yet the end of Christie’s murder-trial saga may not be so clearly remembered. Like another recent Christie production Love from a Stranger this began as a short story, its focus a woman’s love and intelligence rather than simply who’s-been-doing-it.

Romaine Vole can testify in a murder trial because she is not really married to the suspect Leonard. The reason reaches back to the confusions of post-war Europe. As usual Christie provides enough twists and surprises to satisfy the audience they’re being adequately mystified, then throws a final switch or two.

This isn’t simply a matter of seat-edge plotting. Romaine is up no cardboard Christie cut-out for easy audience consumption. If things ended with her own final revelation, there’d be an imposing conclusion focused on character. Alas, the final moments wheel in some hectic surprises, part bitterly ironic, part sheer contrived thrill.

It’s a pity, for Honeysuckle Weeks, a young actor confident and convincing in her 1950s stance, manner and dress, gives Romaine a stoic dignity built on the interior torments of her earlier life and recent emotional experiences, then has to risk it in a sudden final spurt of action.

She’s surrounded by a cast who mostly capture a sense of fogbound 1953 Britain, with only limited dodgy moments. And director Joe Harmston maintains the sense of period while doing away with starchy formality. Peter Byrne’s judge has a comic, yet believable low-key manner, while Denis Lill’s Defence Counsel lolls on his seat when not actively interrogating. Harmston encourages a briskness of speech, contrasting Romaine’s deliberate pace as the outsider for whom English isn’t the home language.

Douglas Kuhrt’s lighting focuses mood and attention in its varying intensities. The jury has an admirable ethnic diversity for 1953, and the ‘Radio Times’ looks more than its age. Otherwise, this is as good and gripping as it’s going to get.

Greta/The Other Woman: Caroline Oakes.
Carter/Clerk of the Court: Michael Gabe.
Mr Mayhew: Robert Duncan.
Leonard Vole: Ben Nealon.
Sir Wilfred Robarts QC: Denis Lill.
Chief Inspector Hearne: Gary Richards.
Policeman/Dr Wyatt: Simon Linnell.
Detective/Thomas Clegg: Simon Cole.
Romaine Vole: Honeysuckle Weeks.
Mr Myers QC: Mark Wynter.
Mr Justice Wainwright: Peter Byrne.
Foreman of the Jury: Keith Myers.
Janet McKenzie: Jennifer Wilson.

Director: Joe Harmston.
Designer: Simon Scullion.
Lighting: Douglas Kuhrt.
Sound: Ian Horrocks-Taylor.
Costume: Brigid Guy.
Legal consultant: David Etherington QC.

2010-05-14 15:01:49

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