Director Luke Wagner has cast this comic whodunnit very well. The characters were evenly matched, well defined and usually quirky, as the genre requires. Together they created the batty British upper-crust manor house atmosphere necessary for the play’s success. The cast were comfortable in the functional drawing room box set on the hall’s restricted stage, without ever seeming to clutter or overcrowd it.
Valerie Lane, as the dowager Mildred Bagshot, established the whole ‘world’ of the play in the first scene with her demanding nature and absent-mindedness, setting the scene well with Kirsty Battersby, convincingly playing Mildred’s patient and earnest niece, Dorothy.
John Martin was marvellous as the stereotypical Colonel Craddock, full of bluster and braggadocio, along with a degree of vagueness and predictable prejudice. He was matched in strength by Deidre Quinn as the Colonel’s wife, Margaret. She was perhaps the straightest of the characters, at least superficially. As is the required case in such a mystery, the plot twisted to reveal hidden truths about many of the characters, Margaret included.
Alex Ling, a familiar and experienced member of Venture’s company, was impressive and amusing as the stolid – if enigmatic – butler Bunting. As the busy-body neighbour Joan Maple, Kristy Mundy was a solid and reliable influence, bringing her character’s important analysis and perspective to the criminal investigation.
David Giles played Pierre, the shonky art dealer, with gusto. Just as his inexplicably excessive and unconvincing French accent was straining the audience’s tolerance to the limit, the plot turned and all was explained, especially that accent. We were both amused and relieved at the revelation. His archly conniving partner, Elizabeth, was convincingly played by Lucy Marshallsay.
The police pair were wonderful. Luke Wagner was exceptional in the role of the blundering Inspector Pratt and James Hanna was drily amusing as his down-to-earth and ironic underling, Constable Thompkins. Wagner, as Director had not intended to perform in the play, yet late in the rehearsal schedule inherited the challenging role of the incompetent, illogical and language-mangling Inspector. He carried the role superbly, with acute comic timing and a Cleese-like physicality. He used both his angular body and animated facial expression to great effect.
Aside from a couple of minor scene change delays, this was a very competent and entertaining production, deservedly and warmly appreciated by the full house on opening night. It is a production Venture can be proud of.Murdered to Death
Venture Theatre Company
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