|< Previous production|
by Agatha Christie
Sir Rowland Delahaye :
Directed by David Pile
AN Agatha Christie whodunnit is rather like a cosy blanket, wrapping us in a comfortable middle-class milieu some time in the last century, when life was slower and simpler. Yet the story is usually anything but cosy, revolving around murder and other villainies. Perhaps Christie’s genius is in reconciling the two, or perhaps her stories are modern morality tales, ending as they always do with evil unmasked and the virtuous triumphant.
Spider’s Web is a classic example of her work. There is not only the requisite murder but a lovely basketful of clues and red herrings containing three pairs of gloves, a pack of playing cards with only 51 cards, a country house let at a suspiciously low rent and a body in a wheelbarrow. Because Christie plays are so mannered and full of clichés – Spider’s Web even contains the superb line, ‘Blackmail is a very ugly word, Clarissa’ – some companies play them as broad farce or ham them up in some other way, which can be disastrous. Wimborne Drama have sensibly not fallen into this temptation: play it straight or not at all is their commendable motto, and they do it very well. The one character who should go over the top, the lady gardener, is played with Betjemanesque heartiness and muscularity by Judy Garrett.
There is actually quite a lot of comedy in the play anyway, most of it given to the central character, Clarissa Hailsham-Brown, a part originally written specifically for Margaret Lockwood. This is an outstanding performance by Lauren Homer: on stage for most of the time, she expertly sets the timing and tone of the piece and she is equally believable as a competent schemer or a ditsy airhead. Christie plays don’t give much opportunity for performers to show their emotional range, but among all the frantic furthering of the plot, Lauren Homer brings off some touching moments with Clarissa’s former guardian and with her step-daughter. It is also a very large part and an impressive feat of memory. In fact, I was not aware of anyone needing a prompt, which is so important in keeping up the pace of a play like this.
There are no passengers in the strong supporting cast. Paul Dodman brings the necessary air of slight threat to the policeman, Inspector Lord, and it is a nice contrast when his stern exterior breaks down with frustration at the infuriating contrariness of Clarissa. Colin Pile not only plays Jeremy Warrender well as a silly ass flirting with Clarissa, but also designed the first-class set. Michael J Smith uses all his considerable stage experience as Sir Rowland Delahaye, although his particular style of delivery means that he swallows too many of his words. All the cast were occasionally slightly difficult to hear, which is regrettable in a play in which almost every line drives the plot along; it is no disgrace to use some sort of amplification in a comparatively big theatre like the Tivoli.
One question rather than complaint: why do front curtains, or tabs, seem to be taboo these days? They remained resolutely open throughout this production, so at a couple of points we could watch the stage crew re-organising the set, and as the house lights came up for the interval, the cast were still crowding their embarrassed way offstage through one exit. It broke the atmosphere and surely, the more artificial the play, the less reality should intrude.
There was hardly an empty seat in the Tivoli on opening night, and this excellent production deserves to be equally well-patronised for the rest of its run.
John Newth, Scene One
WITH barely a spare seat in the house on opening night, this group, which is celebrating its 20th season of plays at the Tiv, can be assured that its choice of this popular Agatha Christie play is a good one.
A crackingly good story, the murder mystery with a touch of humour, is well told by director David Pile, with a quite ingenious and complicated set designed by Colin Pile.
Couple that with well-rehearsed and impressive performances and you have a very slick production.
Spider's Web tells the story of diplomat's wife Clarissa Hailsham-Brown who having discovered a dead body in her drawing-room, tries to dispose of it.
And what a performance by Lauren Homer as Clarissa! It's easy to see why she won best actress at the Dorset Drama League.
In fact her portrayal of the slightly ditzy wife would sit well with professional actors. The group need to hold on to her.
Michael J Smith is accomplished as her guardian Sir Rowland Delahaye and Simon Jackson suitably vague and confused as Hugo Birch.
Judy Garrett is delightful as the eccentric, over-the-top gardener and Paul Dodman has just the right measure of authority and bemusement as Inspector Lord.
Claire Hutton makes a convincing schoolgirl, Pippa, and Colin Pile clearly enjoys playing Jeremy Warrender, although he could perhaps have been a little more debonair and self-assured.
Supporting actors, Alan Dester as Henry Hailsham-Brown, Graham Hawkins as Sergeant Jones, John Sivewright as Oliver Costello and Steve Symonds as servant Elgin, all put in well-rounded characterisations.
It runs until the end of the week, so see if there are any tickets left.
Marilyn Barber, Stour and Avon Magazine