Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A Murder Has Been Arranged - Queens Theatre, Hornchurch

A Murder Has Been Arranged
Writer: Emlyn Williams

Director: Bob Carlton
Reviewer: Michael Gray

“We're in for a most exciting evening !”. “All the pre-requisites of a first class murder mystery !”. No shortage of hostages to fortune in this classic script, then.Revived after eighty years, Emlyn Williams' creaky old ghost story is given a new lease of life in Bob Carlton's stylish production at the Queen's.

Cut to the Chase is run very much on the lines of traditional rep, and this young company took to the 30s style with enthusiasm and cut-glass accents. Of course it's unlikely that the playwright intended his dramatic clichés to be sent up, but audiences of today are not likely to take lines like “Nobody leaves this theatre!”, or “I must have time to think ...” entirely seriously. The second act, with some real frissons from the spectres, “locked up with darkness and death”, was a little harder to play as spoof, but the end was mercifully quick, if not quite as satisfying as we'd imagined.

The tortuous plot concerns an inheritance, poisoned brandy, and a fateful performance of Romeo and Juliet. It all takes place on the stage of a London theatre; Norman Coates's design brilliantly evoked the dusty, doom-laden darkness. The proscenium arch with the Royal coat of arms, the chandelier in a bag, the shrouded angel, and of course Capel's monument, were all beautifully realised. The costumes, too, were wonderful, especially the old-fashioned frocks for Tybalt, Juliet, Nurse and the rest. Atmospheric lighting, and the echo effect for the empty auditorium, helped the mood of mystery.

Simon Jessop was not obvious casting for the wordy eccentric Sir Charles, but he made a good death, at the hands of Marcus Webb's gentleman criminal Maurice Mullins, who came down to the old-fashioned footlights to expound his philosophy of crime. His talented young wife was played with poise and grace by Karen Fisher-Pollard, her dragon of a mother by Helen Watson, and her old flame by Elliot Harper, very much at ease in his pivotal role as red herring and rider to the rescue.

The woman in red, first glimpsed in the faint glimmer of a cigarette lighter [everyone smoked on stage in the thirties], came into her own in the second act – a riveting performance from Sarah Scowen, as, with a swift Shakespeare switch, she alone sees the spectre at the feast.

The weirdest characters were the most satisfying, I felt. Mrs Wragg, the faithful old dresser who sees something nasty in the backstage passage, was given a copybook performance by Jane Milligan, and the double agent Mrs Groze was played with perfect period styling by Lucy Thackeray; her confrontation with Beatrice, Lady Jasper, was the high point of an enjoyable evening. A worthwhile revival of an early piece of Williams.
Photos: Nobby Clark
Runs until Sat 21st Nov
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