Tony Britton and Kate O'Mara head up the big names as Lord and Lady Angkatell, in whose country house, The Hollow, a pre-war weekend party is about to take place. Of the other inhabitants, Tracey Childs is the sister, Henrietta, and Simon Linnell plays feckless cousin Edward, into whose hands the family estate, Ainswick, has passed.
Of the weekend party, there’s a doctor (Ben Nealon) and his doting wife Gerda (Louise Faulkner), the hosts’ poor cousin, Midge, (Chloe Newsome), and a mysterious film star neighbour (Fiona Dolman). Gary Mavers turns up as Inspector Colquhoun when the murder, eventually, occurs.
Harmston uses the Angkatells’ obsession with Ainswick to bring depth to the plot and put this slice of little England under more imaginative scrutiny than is usual in such affairs. So much so that he completely fluffs the whodunit's punch line as he focusses on the issue of who Ainswick (a metaphor for England itself) should end up with.
Otherwise, his dynamic direction brings out some strong performances which allow all the conventions of the genre to flow smoothly from the plot. O'Mara is particularly good in the role of the batty ex-colonial wife obsessed with her garden, and Childs puts in a sterling performance as the strong woman obsessed with the wrong man.
Newsome finds enough depth as Midge to lift the insubstantial character off the page and Dolman knows how to make herself noticed as the glamorous film star - unlike Mavers - but there again an insipid Inspector is no barrier to solving a murder.
With good performances all round from the less well-known actors, Britton and Nealon are left out to dry. Britton drifts through his lines in a way you wouldn't bet on as being deliberate. But it is Nealon's complete lack of coherent characterisation which really finds him out as the culprit.
- Thom Dibdin (reviewed at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh)