Touring – reviewed at Malvern Theatres
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the works of Emlyn Williams, it’s that he writes a thriller or murder mystery, if you like, with a predictable culprit and lack of twist. However, it’s the path that leads you to learn the truth that you already suspected all along, that makes for interesting viewing.
This production was a particularly atmospheric piece, with incidental music which was as haunting and daunting to me as the music used in television whodunnits such as Midsomer Murders! It set the scene beautifully and prepared me to jump, which I’m always likely to do during this genre. The set is also gloriously creepy and provides the perfect backdrop for a thriller of this magnitude. I particularly found the visible ‘woods’ at the rear of the scenery to be a subtle touch yet it enhanced the gripping junctures that were unfolding on stage.
The action takes place at Mrs Bramson’s bungalow, where the relationships between the owner of the bungalow, her staff and her niece are permanently strained. Mrs Bramsom is a wheelchair-bound, sharp tongued battle axe and could be played by nobody better than Gwen Taylor. She excels in such a delicious role and leads the cast, brilliantly. Her niece, Olivia (Niamh McGrady) is bored, under her aunt’s thumb and deliberating over a marriage proposal from Hubert (Alsadair Buchan). Hubert is staying at Mrs Bramson’s cottage in the hope of securing Olivia’s affections. Buchan must be commended for a comical performance, he seemed to be playing a character could have easily been overlooked and he brought the best out in the part. Also providing a few moments of comedy gold, Mandi Symonds as Mrs Terrence who looks after the house, lightening the tension on several occasions with excellent comic timing. The plot begins to move along once housemaid, the perpetually anxious Dora (Melissa Vaughan) reveals her illegitimate pregnancy and Mrs Bramson offers to pin down her elusive ‘beau’.
Gwen Taylor plays Mrs Bramson.
The ‘beau’ is a bellboy by the name of Dan (Will Featherstone) and what a kettle of fish he is. Simple and unwitting on the face of it, but a more complex character in this piece, you will not find. The arrival of Inspector Belsize (Daragh O’Malley) just prior to Dan’s introduction brought the horrific news that a murder may have been committed and as such, Mrs Bramson’s grounds are going to be searched. What follows is a cacophony of events which include Dan joining Mrs Bramson’s staff after winning over the old girl, while Olivia is suspicious of the new employee and lingers in the background waiting to catch him out. It’s a dramatic plot with tension galore and what’s fascinating is how mysterious the character of Olivia remains, she is portrayed superbly by McGrady. Featherstone steals the show, and rightly so, as he takes the role of Dan through a myriad of emotions and is essentially an actor, who is playing a character who is acting.
A strong cast, make a slick job of a predictable storyline and it kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s on of Williams’ better thrillers in my humble opinion.