Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Spider's Web - The Curve, Leicester

Spider’s Web
Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Joe Harmston
Reviewer: David Noble

Spider’s Web came into being when Margaret Lockwood, the star of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, requested that Agatha Christie write her a play in which she was not the anti-heroine. She was seemingly worried at being typecast as the villain of the piece, and such was her distress that she turned to Britain’s leading author of detective fiction for assistance. Thus, Spider’s Web is surprisingly not the average tale of murder, mystery and intrigue one might expect. Instead it contains all three of these elements, but is laced with light “comedy”.

The play details the eventful evening of newly-married Clarissa Hailsham-Brown, played by Melanie Gutteridge, whose rather cushy life comes under threat upon the discovery of a body in her living room. This revelation leads to a somewhat farcical, and indeed enjoyable, tale of blackmail, bizarre motives and innumerable lies.

However, the proceedings prior to the murder in question are painstakingly slow, and one’s impatience at waiting for something to happen is compounded by the irritatingly frequent appearances of Pippa Hairsham-Brown, who is the remorselessly energetic character of Karen Elliot. This grating annoyance was principally caused by the fact that the actor in question was twenty years older than the character, and her overtly stereotypical childish behaviour over-compensated for the fact that there was this age gap. I cringed horribly on a regular basis.

Fortunately the lack of pace in Act 1 did allow one to take in what was a gorgeous set, as designed by Simon Scullion. Additionally, Ian Horrocks-Taylor’s use of music from the period during the brief interludes between Acts was a particularly nice touch.

In what was an entertaining climax (climax here referring to all action after Act 1), Bruce Montague’s portrayal of Sir Rowland Delahaye was a clear highlight, along with Denis Lill’s Inspector Lord. Montague especially was able to present an air of aristocracy whilst being understatedly deadpan; he clearly judged the role very well. It was unfortunate that his comedic timing and general wit was not evident in some other members of the cast, for example Melanie Gutteridge, as one got the impression that a few snappy one-liners were wasted through poor delivery.

Clearly one should not be expecting to be left overawed by this performance of Spider’s Web, and why should they? There are inadequacies of course, but at the same time it is suspenseful and relatively engaging. At the risk of sounding utterly clichéd, I would have to recommend it to fans of the genre, or anyone who enjoys watching Columbo from time to time.

Spider’s Web runs until 26th September.
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