If you’ve never been to the Shelley Theatre in Bournemouth you really should go. It is a delightful little place with lovely courtyard and bar. The theatre itself has a low small stage and raked and comfortable seating; rescued, apparently, from the Imax.
The next few weeks on Tuesdays and Thursdays up to 28th August would be particularly fine days to go if tonight’s performance was anything to go by.
A story of psychological warfare, Brian is financially dependent on his wife Sheila, and he is in love with another woman. An acquaintance convinces him he would be better off if Sheila were to die and then suggests a “foolproof” murder scheme, adding that he only wants the satisfaction of committing a perfect murder.
It’s very difficult to review a play like this without giving the game away, but I’ll do my best.
The stage opened on a very good but empty set and a squeal of brakes; and the intrigue began.
There was great pace from Neil James as ex-racing driver turned motoring critic Brian Hamilton and Musa Trevathan playing the psychotic Gerry Stephens. And yet, the director, Al Wadlan, allowed his cast space to breathe with some very long pauses and empty stages that served only to heighten the sense of “what on earth is going on?”
Shortly Brian’s estranged wife Sheila, played by Kirsty Cox, arrives. The dynamic and chemistry between them was outstanding.
Exit Sheila and enter Gerry who becomes altogether chilling. Musa’s portrayal of this madman is worryingly convincing. Very understated, he put me in mind of the character Martin Taylor from Brimstone and Treacle. He seems rather pleasant, maybe a little sickly sweet but, surely, harmless…
Gerry leads Brian through a hypothetical game of murder and we have a brief and unconvincing peek at how it would work.
The second act opens and six months have passed. We meet the reason for Sheila’s estrangement, June Maitland. A vivacious, lighted hearted girl played by Hepzibah Roe, she is the perfect antidote to the dark happenings of the first half (and they were a lot darker than our little peek I can tell you). The happiness and frivolity of the lovers is broken by the arrival, again, of Gerry.
The tension portrayed between Brian and Gerry is palpable with June breezing through it. It is not long before things begin to unravel and Gerry, leveraging their shared secret, exerts enormous pressure on Brian to end his relationship with June and to allow him (Gerry) to move in permanently.
Act 2, scene 3, sees a thoroughly downtrodden and cowed Brian; a shadow of his former self; haunted. The transformation is astonishing. It may be for this reason or perhaps the fact the air conditioning had been turned off (it had become oppressively hot in the auditorium, I hate to think how hot it was on stage) that this scene seemed to drag a little bit as it reached its climax, which is a shame.
Nevertheless, with the pace, the pauses, the tension and the light relief, I have to give full credit to Al Wadlan and his cast for this hugely enjoyable production with more twists and turns than a vipers nest.
One more point I must make before I signoff and it is a particular bugbear of mine. I can’t abide direction that moves people about the stage for no better reason than they haven’t moved in a while. Those kinds of shenanigans were completely absent from this play. For me, there was not a single superfluous move.
For their summer season LRP are also performing J.B. Priestley’s Dangerous Corner, Francis Durbridge’s Suddenly At Home and Richard Harris’s Dead Guilty.
I must get down to the Shelley to see some more. I hope you do too.