THE UNEXPECTED GUEST. Agatha Christie Murder Mystery. Directed by Lynn Moss. Set/Costumes: Santie du Toit. Presented by Claremont Dramatic Society. At The Masque Theatre from 1 – 4 November.
SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews
Agatha Christie never uses obscenities and has a rare gift for assigning dissimilar characteristics to her characters, which, when blended together, make a “harmonious” whole.
So even today when murder is perpetrated at horrendous levels, one of the standout features of Christie’s murder mysteries is the genteel manner the murder is committed. The actual murder is seldom seen. Gore is never splashed around. Pace is measured. Voices rarely raised. The victim – usually a cad – gives umpteen people motives for killing him/ her. That, gives Christie umpteen reasons to weave her red herrings.
Placed in the hands of Lynn Moss – whose directing is noted by her talent to draw out well-honed characterisation, her treatment of this mystery resulted in The Unexpected Guest being an entertaining piece of theatre. One the Grande Dame herself would appreciate. The plot concerns Michael Starkwedder (Bryan Look) who, in heavy fog has driven his car into a ditch and stumbles into the darkened Warwick home seeking help. Switching on lights he finds a man (Richard Warwick) dead in his wheelchair. He sees Laura (Gizelle Willows), cowering, holding a gun and she confesses to killing her husband.
Struck by her beauty, Michael persuades Laura there are ways to cover up the murder and proceeds to do so. It’s unlikely they’ll succeed as the Warwick household comprises Miss Bennet (Rosemary Wilke). She’s not only housekeeper, she’s the keeper of intimate family behaviour and knows precisely how to manipulate (watch her with Jan); Jan (Tom Tew) is Richard’s “simple-minded” half-brother.
He loves Laura, hates Richard, and is pleased he’s dead because now he’s head of the house. Then there’s dignified Mrs Warwick (Barbara Basel). She loves her sons, but understands what each is capable of. The last household member is Richard’s insomniac valet/nurse/carer Henry Angell (Simon Dutton). A slimy piece of work, his ingratiating attempts at blackmailing produced real shivers. Sporting a moustache is Wayne Ronne as politician Major Julian Farrar. Charming yes. But weak. His neighbour’s murder might affect his career so he takes to his heels – rather than supporting Laura.
Representing the police is Inspector Thomas (Nigel Stevenson). Although he twists his handlebar moustache he’s no Poirot. Yet his pedantic cross-questioning slowly unravels dark Warwick secrets. As Sergeant Cadwallader, Willie Blignaut is a fidget who prefers poetry to detection.
The setting is Warwick’s comfortable sitting room. Apart from a phoney looking gun, the 1950’s authenticity is marked by a dial telephone; narrow lapels in men’s jackets and skirts’ mid-calf hemlines.
Willow’s jitters to a stranger’s unlawful suggestion, her fine interpretation of a brow-beaten wife, as well as her caring for Jan, places a question mark over her and their relationship.
Look took Michael’s major role in his stride. However, he needs to control his distracting chin-stroking mannerism and constant placing of his hands on his hips. To what depths Tew’s excellent portrayal of Jan would go to avoid institutionalisation is another question.
The Unexpected Guest is well-directed, well-acted and every word is heard. Well done!
What: The Unexpected Guest
Who: Claremont Dramatic Society
Where: The Masque Theatre, Muizenberg
Book tickets: www.computicket.co.za, 021 421 7695