I have always enjoyed Christie's work (and I've appeared in a few of her plays myself) but surprisingly I've never seen this particular piece. This was also my first visit to the main stage at the Garrick in Stockport. It's a very nice standard shaped theatre with raked seating – you might call it a “little theatre” with its 151 seats – and even though I was sat towards the back of the auditorium, I wasn't that far away from the stage. I could hear almost everything, with just one of the younger actors being a little quiet and hard to hear at times.
The set, beautifully created by Mark Roberts, Sarah Farrell and the stage crew, is a perfect backdrop and they are to be congratulated for their attention to detail. Similarly, the props (managed by Helen Cheetham and Elaine Pratt) and the costumes designed by Kate Smalley and her team are very good and appropriate for the era (1958).
The action opens late at night in the drawing room/study of a remote house in South Wales, owned by Richard Warwick (Morgan Edwards) and his wife Laura (Alison Abel). As this is a mystery play, with quite a number of twists and turns, I don't want to say too much about the plot itself. Warwick is an invalid (and in a wheelchair) as a result of a serious injury incurred during his time in Kenya as a big game hunter. There are symbols of his past life all around the room - the Masai shield and spears, the trophy of a deer's head above the fireplace and so on. We learn that he drinks heavily and spends his night time looking out through the French windows and occasionally taking a pot shot at passing wildlife with one of his many guns. Richard is also painted as a very cruel man, made worse by his incapacity. The night in question is very foggy. A man - ('the unexpected guest') – appears in near darkness not long before midnight. He says he has crashed his car into a ditch nearby due to the dense fog and he enters the Warwicks' home through a window in the study, purportedly to make a telephone call and seek help. The man (Michael Starkwedder, coolly played by John Wild) quickly insinuates himself into the scene he has discovered and begins to persuade Laura into a course of action and series of events which echo throughout the whole play. Laura (brilliantly performed by Ms Abel) is totally believable in a tour de force performance as the mistreated wife who herself has a guilty secret which is revealed later in the action.
There is an excellent supporting cast: Miss Bennett (Kathryn Way), Richard Warwick's mother (Julia O'Toole), Henry Angell (Chris Rogerson), prospective MP Julian Farrar (Dan Pothecary) and the police personnel (Adam Williams, Alex Newman and Joshua Holden). However, I was especially impressed by Russell Knight's portrayal of Jan Warwick, Richard's much younger half brother, which he sensitively brought to life along with adding some good touches of fun and humour. Other than a couple of tiny technical hitches (to be expected on a first night!), the typically wordy dialogue flowed effortlessly.
All in all, a very enjoyable evening, worth turning out for in nasty weather. I would wholeheartedly recommend this production whether you're a Christie fan or new to the genre. Thanks also to the staff and volunteers at the Garrick for their help and hospitality. This production runs every evening until February the 2nd, starting at 7:30pm.
Reviewer - David Swift
on - 28/1/19