Don't rely on the title of this thriller for accurate directions. That there's no real signpost to murder is just one of the red herrings plated up for us to savour. We are in the countryside forty years ago, when a convicted murderer faced the inevitability of the measured drop through the hangman's noose.
Unless, that is, a clever barrister could persuade the jury his client was insane. Criminally insane, agreed, but therefore ineligible for the otherwise mandatory death penalty. So far, justice has been served. But what if the murderer was not insane? What if he was actually innocent?
Monty Doyle's play takes us from the asylum to a cottage where a bored wife waits for her boring husband to return from an equally boring business trip. Cue an escaped inmate determined to regain both his freedom and his reputation. What's more, he's an actor by profession and an intelligent, well-read one to boot.
You're going to have to see Ian Dickens' production for yourself; I'm not going to spoil the suspense by telling you just what happens next. But of course, you may already know the story and just want to know who's in it and are they any good.
Roy Collier, the protagonist, is played by Peter Amory who is convincing as an actor and as a man with an obsession. Sally Thomas, his antagonist, is Nicola Wheeler who fires off her lines with equal certainty. There are a great number of lines for both characters as well as considerable activity.
Although the set for the Thomas's home is a good one, it would have been nice to have some form of backdrop to the opening sequence in the office of Dr Forrest (Tony O'Callaghan) rather than a simple black curtain and an institutional light fitting. The asylum should be just as real as the village outside; it's equally important.
Robert Banks plays the warder Reg Cartwright, more involved with his charge than one might initially think. The soundtrack to all this is Gregorian plainchant, which turns another facet of the story to the spotlight. One character remarks "the only alternative to a nightmare is murder". Or could it be an acceptance of redemption?
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage)