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South East
posted/updated: 02 May 2019 -
Death Knell
James Cawood
society/company: Banbury Cross Players (directory)
performance date: 01 May 2019
venue: The Mill Arts Centre, Spiceball Park Road, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX16 5QE
reviewer/s: Alex Wood (Sardines review)

Death Knell by James Cawood is a dark modern thriller, with a tense plot, red herrings and switchbacks which makes for an intriguing and entertaining evening.

The Roths live in an isolated old hunting lodge deep in the highlands of Scotland. Their partnership is an uncomfortable one. He is a writer who has had some success but nothing like that of his hit play Manhunt and that was years ago. His ego, if not his healthy bank account, needs a new triumph.

Lame from a car accident and losing his sight he isn’t a happy man. His wife is a nervy recovering alcoholic, clearly resentful of her husband’s domineering behaviour (‘I love you but I can’t trust you’) but without the means to leave him, apparently willing to stay in the hope that things will get better.

Into the mix comes personable young actor Jack Willoughby, invited to the lodge by the writer, who would like to see him in his next play, for which he has seriously high hopes. An already tense situation becomes more so when the actor sees the writer’s wife.

There are, I think, some loose ends and inconsistencies in the story but these notwithstanding the tale has many twists and turns which will keep any audience on their toes – and there are enough hints to give everyone an opportunity to have a guess at how it will all finish!

The roles of Henry and Evelyn Roth are central to this play. Onstage throughout, Andy Parsons (Henry) and Fiona Mikel (Evelyn) create a strong partnership which maintains the tension in their relationship from beginning to end. Andy captures Henry’s frustration, anger and pure cunning extremely well. His domination of Evelyn is chillingly convincing. Fiona plays the apparently neurotic Evelyn to a tee, her facial expressions subtly reflecting various reactions to what is going on around her – in contrast to the cool control of Henry.

In a fine performance Steve Ramsden was the very heart and soul of enthusiastic young actor Jack Willoughby, apparently so keen to join Henry Roth in his new enterprise, then in another, darker one.

And completing the mix is Sam Brassington as DCI Lazan, the police officer sent to Scotland to investigate the doings of The Ghoul. Sam is very convincing as the detective who is sure he has got his man.

There were a few (very slightly) fluffed lines and a prompt on this opening night, but diction was excellent. Movement onstage was very well managed. Maybe I missed something but I would have thought more should be made of Henry’s ‘failing eyesight’ – would someone unable to read a newspaper move so easily round the stage?

The set is designed by Chris Garrett. It works well within the constraints of the venue, though it looked quite ‘bare’ and I would have liked to see it given more character with some suitable dressing.

All in all, though, a great night’s entertainment, thanks to the very skilled and dynamic cast and their director, Linda Shaw.

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