Wednesday, 18 March 2020

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Dead Certain - The Little Theatre, Altrincham

It is relatively rare to see a full length two-hander play performed and even rarer to see an amateur production of one (largely because it necessarily limits the number of the acting opportunities). It was therefore refreshing to see Altrincham Little Theatre present a genuine two-hander (as opposed to plays such as ‘Waiting For Godot’, often viewed as a two-hander but actually having a cast of four or five). In so doing, an ambitious piece had been chosen with both actors on stage at all times (bar a few seconds) and one of them confined to a wheelchair throughout.

Dead Certain can be compared in many way to the famous Anthony Shaffer thriller ‘Sleuth’ in which a psychological game of chess is played out between two protagonists with the upper-hand moving back and forth like a shuttlecock as layer after layer in each character’s life and psyche is progressively revealed. There are numerous twists and turns with a number of surprises. Another play of a similar genre and based largely around two main characters is Ira Levin’s ‘Death Trap’. Naturally, such plays require a considerable skill on the part of both the lead actors and the director and Altrincham Little Theatre proved beyond question that this was well within their capabilities.

The play is something of a slow-burner in getting going but this serves to only intensify the dramatic effect of the later shifts in plot and character perspectives. Victoria Johnson as Elizabeth and Chris Burton as Michael each displayed considerable versatility in showing their characters’ life stories unfold and not only were the progressive changes in countenance and emotions truly marked but the tensions built up between the two were very real and convincing. There was not a single prompt which was important because with tension built up, any prompt or unnecessary pause could have ruined the flow but taught confrontation was skilfully maintained.

This was a powerful and demanding piece which in the wrong hands could have easily fallen apart but Director Lisa Barker not only kept the pace moving but also the actors themselves with the full stage being used to full advantage as at almost all times, there were credible reasons for one or the both actors to be moving around. In fact, this was a decidedly more physical play than a great many others with much larger casts!

The set was well dressed and realistic with an array of framed posters from famous musicals bringing over the fact that here lived a serious aficionado of theatre. It is admittedly a subjective point of view but the black, flowered wallpaper was somewhat unappealing and seemed a curious choice for a lady’s living room but what is to say it was not what Elizabeth might have chosen? There were numerous props around the set which were important to the story making this not just a challenging play but a fairly technical one from an acting viewpoint as well.

Dead Certain was an enjoyable and ultimately gripping piece of theatre. More than in most plays, the characters were really seen to change and quality acting was both required and delivered. This play was a very effective showcase for Altrincham Little Theatre, in terms of acting, direction staging and as an original choice of play. One or two recent choices at this theatre have been a little lacklustre but with Dead Certain, the theatre’s reputation for vibrant, challenging drama has been completely restored. A very polished all-round production.

Reviewer - John Waterhouse
on - 15/3/20

NB: All further performances of this play have now sadly been cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

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