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Dead Guilty (tour - Stevenage, Gordon Craig Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Poison comes in many guises. Not just as a pill or a potion. It can be intangible, something in the mind. Richard Harris' psychological thriller Dead Guilty starts and ends with an inquest. In between, over two acts and many short scenes, we watch the intermediate events.

When the play starts,Julia is in a wheelchair. It's the early 1990s and she's a freelance graphic designer (these are the days when both mobile phones and desktop-publishing were comparative rarities). She's been injured in a road accident; a colleague had a heart attack at the wheel of the car in which he was driving her from a clients' meeting.

A counsellor, Margaret, has been assigned to her in order to mitigate any mental trauma. Julia also has the assistance of a home-help, Gary. Then she's contacted by John's widow Anne. Such an apparently innocent gesture, so obviously intended to benefit both women, to facilitate closure after so horrific an event and bring peace...

If you don't know the play, I won't spoil it for you by saying what happens thereafter. The episodic nature of the structure sets both the director and cast a problem. There's only one set, which the designer Geoff Gilder has fashioned predominantly in beige and bright red, very much of the period. Director Patric Kearns is fortunate in his Julia. Anna Brecon has just the right sort of edginess to keep us from being as completely on her side as initial impressions might suggest.

Both Margaret (Jenny Funnell) and Gary (Ben Roddy) are important plot levers and imbue their performances with conviction. And we've all met people like ex-nurse Anne (Jo Castleton) who look at one moment as though butter wouldn't – couldn't – possibly melt in their mouths and in the next instant pull a mantle of professional authority over the most apparently simple actions.


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