Meet Sandra Grey. Not a nice lady. She’s buried one husband and is in pursuit of a third. This latest candidate is called David. They meet in the London flat of some mutual friends and are joined, at different times, by two other acquaintances. One is Jennifer – but she’s just popped in to feed the budgie. The other is oh-so-slightly-sinisterly-camp man-about-town Alec.
Confused? You are expected to be, for this is The Rats by Agatha Christie and our unpleasant little rodents are caught in a thoroughly ingenious trap. Edward Max’s direction keeps the tension level high and there are some good performances, notably by Sophia Linden as Sandra. Martin Robinson’s set, with its array of doors and strategically placed furniture, words well, though the sofa perhaps lets it down a trifle.
After the interval we are in Knightsbridge, a comedy of cross purposes and cross meanings by the master of cross examination John Mortimer. It’s still the 1950s, just toppling over into the Sixties, and this particular flat is the home of Muriel and her (very) short-sighted daughter Francesca (Stephanie Day). Francesca’s boyfriend is a television producer Henry, and they’re planning to regularise their relationship.
The delicate question then arises of precisely how widowed Muriel has financed her daughter’s education and their overall standard of living. Henry (Patrick Marlowe, who is Alec in the first play) senses a news story and the sort of television interview which could really make his name. Muriel (Fiona McAlpine, who plays Jennifer in The Rats) just wants to ensure that he’s the right man for her daughter, and a properly reliable one at that.
Phone calls keep interrupting everyone’s attempts at conversation, let alone explanations. There then arrives a somewhat seedy individual in an equally seedy mackintosh (Alan Mirren, David in the first play). He’s definitely a client, but for what? It’s all cleverly written, and paced by the cast accordingly. The women’s costumes are right for the period in both plays (someone in wardrobe has had a good forage through second-hand and “vintage” rails). The contrast between the two short plays makes for an enjoyable evening.