As well-made thrillers of the 1960s go, this is a perfectly correct specimen. The slightly changed second leg of the 60th anniversary tour has an excellent set and is competently directed by Ian Watt-Smith. The eight-strong cast look right and go through all the proper motions, but somehow on this opening night there was little conviction and even less tension.
This is the sort of play which was always intended to be performed in a conventional proscenium-arch theatre, one where the audience's entire attention is focused directly on the onstage action. A venue such as Southend's Cliffs Pavilion, admirably suited though it is for many types of entertainment, cannot provide that ambiance. It also has an acoustical problem.
I spent much of the first act biting back a desire to call out: "Could you please speak up!" Too much dialogue needed to be grasped at, only to prove ephemeral. But the background to the story is vitally important, so that we understand completely why newly-wed Mollie and Giles Rolston are turning her ancestral home into a guesthouse, as well as why their first miscellany of guests are there.
Jemma Walker is a charming Mollie, doing her best to provide for the needs of the more cantankerous of the visitors; Elizabeth Power's Mrs Boyle chief among them. Karl Howman is the most urbane of snow-bound foreigners, matched by Steven France's campily fidgeting Wren (the least accurate of bird names if ever there was one!). I also liked Clare Wilkie's icily precise Miss Casewell.
Then there's Bruno Langley's Giles, manfully doubling up as hall porter, handyman, bell-push answerer and anything else which may turn this venture into a success story. Laconic Major Metcalfe (Graham Seed) and detective-on-skis Trotter (Bob Saul) complete the cast.
Who dunnit?, you may be asking. That
would be telling... and we are specifically asked at the
curtain-calls not to say. So I won't. You'll just have to work it out