Reviewed by Dave Smith
Venture Theatre Company chose the Victor Lucas comic mystery Strangers in the House for its latest production at Christies Beach. The mystery concerns the identity and purpose of the Jones family’s strange house guest and several other odd characters who, farce-like, pop in and out of the action.
Jason Lokan emphatically portrayed Mr Jones, a zany inventor, who added to the play’s mystery by concealing the real purpose of his latest invention, The Thing. The rest of his family are the most normal characters of all. Leanne Albers played a sensible and understanding Mrs Jones, while Kyle Hopgood and Jessica Ramsay balanced the action and provided some of the comedy as the near-adult Jones children Mark and Penny. They also brought the love interest with, respectively, Arabella Bunter-Cutts (Adrianna Allman) and John Cunningham (Jermaine Toetu).
As the plot was gradually revealed, Mrs Benbow, the house guest, emerged as central to the action. Debra Waller largely succeeded in creating her character and she certainly looked the part. She cut a commanding and flamboyant figure, and her voice carried authority, although at times she was hesitant in the timing of her lines and cues. She did, however, create a suitable distance between herself and her hosts.
The whole play looked appealingly fixed in the 1970s. Lisa Aveyard and Valerie Kelsey’s costumes were authentic and the box set of the Jones’s living room was a fitting tribute to the era in orange, yellow and brown.
Director Luke Wagner ensured that the pace was appropriate. To begin, the script was slow, even laboured, but it sped up considerably as the snappy exits and entrances and developing story line gave it momentum. The humour worked well. In the end, the main joke was on the audience who had been lured by the comings and goings of the decidedly mysterious and dangerous-looking strangers into believing a crime was in the making. The final revelation was much more benign, yet the audience appreciated it no less.