Saughtonhall United Reformed Church, Edinburgh – until 6 April 2019
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Photo: Sarah Howley
A frankly implausible plot, that breaks several of the cardinal rules of crime fiction, is largely overcome by the committed performances in Saughtonhall Drama Group’s Nightmare.
Ailing romantic novelist Marion Bishop’s convalescence in her secluded country cottage is put in jeopardy by a series of events that start with a visit from her ne’er-do-well nephew Raymond and the arrival of nurse Laura, in Norman Robbins’s twist-filled thriller.
While there is a certain fascination in the story– and it is an object lesson in how to structure play with one set – the definite suggestion that Robbins should have quit while he was ahead does surface more than once in the seemingly never-ending series of switchbacks, false trails and general red herrings.
Despite the title, there is nothing nightmarish about this, or even any compelling psychological element – it is one of those bloodless who-really-cares-whodunnits that can just wash over the audience.
However – and despite the somewhat leisurely pace of the production – it never quite tries the patience. This is largely because, despite the comparative lack of impetus and genuine oomph, director Morag Simpson has coaxed a series of surprisingly convincing and layered performances from the cast, which survive the occasional insecurities with lines and the frankly ludicrous nature of much of what happens. The complexity of the characterisations helps in a story where several people may not be what they appear.
Ishbel Shand’s Marion is believable and poignant as the novelist, once able to create at Cartlandish speed but now facing up to the diminishing of her powers. John Webster’s jailbird nephew combines a rascally amorality with a genuine twinkle that makes him hard to dislike, while Chris Mitchell, as the mysterious new nurse, is suitably inscrutable yet highly plausible.
Colin Mitchell and Ishbel Shand Pic Sarah Howley
Judith Petrie makes the village gossip much more than the caricature she could be. David Hastie takes on the thankless task of playing Michael, who has one of those unspecified neurological impairments beloved of writers of potboiler thrillers (explained away by the doctor as being caused by a car crash suffered by his pregnant mother) and he fulfils the role with a great deal of tact and sympathy.
Candice Sullivan gives considerable humanity and sympathy to Michael’s brother Katherine, who is in many ways the play’s central figure. Colin Mitchell’s doctor is another one who has the right amount of mystery to keep us all guessing, while keeping the character rooted in reality.
The set – designed by Liz Wilson and built by Keith Wilson – is an absolute triumph, looking for all the world as if a rather genteel sitting room has been dropped into the church hall. Craig Oliver’s technical design is also top class, with some particularly fine sound effects.
This all makes it seem a little more real, which helps when some of the more infuriating elements of the plot come into play. While a little more sped would certainly not go amiss, there is still something compelling here, which – added to the trademark welcoming atmosphere of Saughtonhall – makes for an enjoyable production.
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes including one interval
Saughtonhall United Reformed Church, 87 Saughtonhall Drive, EH12 5TR
Tuesday 2 – Saturday 6 April 2019
Tues – Fri at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat at 2 pm
Company Facebook page: @saughtonhalldramagroup
Candice Sullivan, David Hastie, Judith Petrie, Ishbel Shand, Chris Mitchell, Colin Mitchell, John Webster. Pic: Sarah Howley