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The Unexpected Guest

by Agatha Christie
21st - 23rd October 2010

The Unexpected Guest poster

Richard Warwick : Bob Hucklesby
Jan Warwick : Rob Cording
Inspector Thomas : Paul Dodman
Mrs Warwick : Val Mantle
Miss Bennet : Chrissie Neal
Michael Starkwedder :
Richard Neal
Laura Warwick : Tracey Nicholls
Julian Farrar : Tony Parkinson
Sergeant Cadwallader : Colin Pile
Henry Angell : Michael Smith

Director : Dave Pile

The fact that you could have heard a pin drop in the packed auditorium was a good sign that this production, very well directed by David Pile, was gripping from its opening moments. Even the person in front of me, who had presumably missed tea so noisily worked her way through a packet of maltesers and a bottle of water, was quick to stop once the first gunshot rang out. Maybe she thought the next one would be directed at her…

This rarely performed Agatha Christie thriller in which a rather unpleasant man is shot dead, seemingly by his wife, kept the audience guessing the identity of the murderer to the last. In typical Christie fashion the plot teemed with potential suspects, all of whom had their reasons for wanting Richard Warwick dead. True to form, I failed miserably to identify the perpetrator so was mortified that my husband was spot-on in his assumption. Mind you, the ending is a little ambiguous so maybe I wasn’t so wrong after all.

Bob Hucklesby seems to have cornered the market in dead bodies and is clearly a natural, as although Warwick’s corpse remained on stage for the entire first scene I detected no sign of movement whatsoever. There was an excellent, emotion-filled performance from Tracey Nicholls as his wife, Laura, and Richard Neal was also thoroughly convincing as Michael Starkwedder, a stranger who called at the house for help after his car went into a ditch in thick fog, stumbling upon the murder scene.

There were lovely characterisations too from Chrissie Neal (Miss Bennett), Val Mantle (Mrs Warwick snr), Anthony Parkinson (Julian Farrar), Paul Dodman (Inspector Thomas) and Colin Pile (Sergeant Cadwaller) – the latter displaying a very convincing Welsh accent, although it did slip slightly after he was shot in the hand. Too worried about the blood, I expect.

However, two performances really stood out for me. The first was Michael J Smith (Henry Angell, Richard Warwick’s assistant), who lit up the stage on his every entrance and created a brilliant character. The second was Rob Cording, whose characterisation of the retarded Jan Warwick was filled with detail, was never over-the-top and was, I think, the best performance I have ever seen him give.

I was impressed too with the superb set, while the fog-horn sound effects created just the right atmosphere of impending disaster.

Linda Kirkman - Scene One

This play starts on dark foggy night. A shot rings out and a stranger, Michael Starkwedder, played superbly by Richard Neal, comes in through the french windows to find a woman holding a gun and a dead man in a wheelchair. All typical Agatha Christie.

The dead man, Richard Warwick (Bob Hucklesby), turns out to have been a thoroughly unpleasant person. Between lying, making life miserable for his wife and shooting the neighbourhood cats, he had also managed to run over a child. However, that was in the past, the child’s father is now dead, therefore he could have no connection with Warwick’s death -- or could he? Red herrings abound as Starkwedder sets about helping the obviously guilty wife (Tracey Nicholls) save herself from the crime she’s ready to admit to - but is she telling the truth?

There’s a gun-crazy half-brother of limited intelligence played with complete conviction by Rob Cording, not to mention a devoted housekeeper (Chrissie Neal), a disillusioned mother (Val Mantle), two policemen (Colin Pile and Paul Dodman), a highly-respectable local MP (Anthony Parkinson) and the dead man’s blackmailing manservant (Michael J Smith) who in my opinion gave the best performance of the evening.

The whole cast worked together as a well oiled team although I thought director David Pile had some strange moves which at times had me going cross eyed. All in all an enjoyable evening.

Lyn Richel - Bournemouth Echo