The Unexpected Guest
Paul Johnson | 29 Sep 2019 17:42pm
Let’s be honest the storyline of any Agatha Christie play, or novel for that matter, demands that the audience (or reader) suspends a certain amount of disbelief and goes along unquestioningly with the plot – otherwise I am not sure anyone would last the distance. The ludicrous beginning of The Unexpected Guest, where a helpful stranger walks into a living room on a foggy evening and then engages a new widow in an protracted conversation about what to do in the event of a murder, whilst in the presence of a dead body, is fairly preposterous. As is the fact that every character, apart from the police seem to be implicated in the murder, which explains why nobody seems particularly upset by the death of Richard Warwick, a cruel bully.
The arrival of Michael Starkwedder, the unexpected guest, provides all the other characters opportunities to discuss with him their varying feelings about the dead man and his relationship with them. He is a fresh pair of ears, who has no knowledge of the family history. Played by Charlie Watts he comes across as an urbane, courteous outsider, who seems to take pity on the rather hapless Laura Warwick, and successfully leaves us wondering why he is being so helpful to a complete stranger. Adeptly played by Laura Gamble, we see the unfaithful widow turn chillingly on her protector in a great volte-face moment at the end of act one, reminding him the he is now an accessory to murder.
These two solid performers efficiently give us the framework to the piece, before the entrance of the other members of the household. A strong supporting cast: Chris Chambers, Janet Edden, Thomas Puttock and Roger Dale are all believable as friends or members of the household who hold grudges against the dead man. Each one successfully convince us of their potential guilt, while maintaining their innocence.
Nikki Packham as Mrs Warwick, the murder victim’s mother, never leaves us in a moment’s doubt that she fully recognises her son’s weaknesses whilst effectively provides us with yet another red herring as to her part in the murder. Robert Chambers and Adam Stevens, also turn in good, strong performances as the misled police officers.
Jacquelyn Wynter’s direction is commendable with plenty of attention to minor details of movement and gesture that help to add suggestive hints and clues to the possible murderer and build up to the final denouement effectively, as signified by the gasps from the audience.
The costumes are authentic, giving a lovely feeling of period as is the lighting and the atmospheric soundscape. However, the set is a masterpiece with some fantastic set dressing. The stage at the Miller Centre has a great width that allows for the living room to spread effortlessly providing us with French windows, bureaus and sofas, armchairs and desks whilst still allowing for movement. The amazing collection of animal trophy heads sets off the scene and are a constant reminder of the victim’s former life, many congratulations to Jenny Kingman on a stunning design.
The Miller Centre production of this Christie classic is a solid and engaging piece with some excellent performances; certainly the members of the audience who were not talking for the first ten minutes, eating biscuits from a Tupperware container or looking at their phone (‘I’m just checking it’s off,’ she explained when we glared across) thoroughly enjoyed themselves and were overheard leaving the theatre exclaiming in surprise at ‘whodunnit’ or patting themselves on the back for working it out. Perhaps a pre-show announcement about theatre etiquette would have made it slightly more enjoyable for this particular reviewer.
- : admin
- : 28/09/2019