One of the joys of tuning into Radio 4 Extra is hearing ‘Coronation Scot’, followed by the suave tones of Peter Coke as Paul Temple and the cut-glass accent of his wife, Steve, played by Marjorie Westbury. The adventurous couple’s creator, Francis Durbridge, also wrote thrillers of rare talent and ingenuity, and Suddenly at Home is one of his best, to which this production does full justice.
It is not so much a whodunnit as a ‘willtheygetawaywithit’, since the murder is committed on stage before act 1 is half over and there is never any doubt about who are the villains of the piece. Or are they? There are twists and turns in the story right up to the very end, bemusing the murderers as much as anybody. One cannot allow one’s attention to wander for a second, which is as good a definition as any of an enjoyable night of theatre.
It is excellent to see a young director like John Sivewright creating a successful production of what is in many ways a traditional piece. The single set is a conventional drawing room and much of the dialogue is naturalistic, but the direction does not allow characters to get stuck in one place for long, and the commonplace stretches of dialogue are embraced as a contrast to emphasise the moments of high drama. Nor is the director afraid of leaving the stage completely empty for several seconds to build up tension.
The play is held together by the character of Glenn, and Michael Griffiths makes a very competent job of the part. Glenn’s chief quality is calm authority, and this could be more fully conveyed, but it will come with the confidence that will grow during the run. As his wife, Maggie, Fiona Richards is remarkably comfortable in her role for an actress of comparatively limited experience. Alyssa Thompson plays her sister, Helen, with her customary assurance and has the great gift of listening intelligently to the other actors’ dialogue and acting well off them. The femme fatale of the piece is played by Michelle Barter, who oozes the necessary sexy magnetism. Alan Dester has a nice line in confused innocence, which serves him well in the part of Maggie’s ex-lover. Sinead Summers is pert and pretty as the au pair who grows in importance.
If your taste is for a classic one-set, village hall, am dram thriller, very well performed, then this is one you definitely shouldn’t miss.
Future performances: 22-25 February at 7.45, 25 February at 2.30 and 7.45.