Agatha Christie is ‘marmite’ and for me personally, not something I would spread on my toast, but it is the case that audiences love them, and many amateur theatres will always include one in their catalogue in their season as they know its bums on seats.
Carlton Players being no exception, regularly produce her plays and this week its Towards Zero, a complicated mix of the usual group of suspects: house guests gathered in a large house. No surprise there’s a murder, everyone has a motive and finally, by some clever deduction, the police uncover the truth.
The script, like all Christie, is pretty static and all exposition and one way a director might approach it is to find the comedy and irony: play it over the top with lots of movement and action. This director didn’t quite go for that approach, and it was played pretty straight, although the characters were well defined and generally the pace was good. This being the first night it was a little slow to start until it found its feet. A few missed lines slowed it in places, but this will only improve as the week goes on.
You can always rely on the little theatre to present elaborate sets and costumes and the boxset of the drawing room gave us the scene beautifully. By the costumes we were in the 1950s but perhaps the intro music was a little earlier in period but at any rate we got that old fashioned feeling, with the summer afternoon streaming in through the French windows. The sound effects of distant rumbling thunder made us aware of the impeding storm, foreshadowing what was to come. Perhaps a few other summer sounds of birds or distant waves could have given us a sense of place. We are meant to be near cliffs in Cornwall.
Lady Tressilian played by Phyllis Brighouse, spoke her mind and took no nonsense from the others. I did think she might need a hat when taking the air on the terrace. She is the lady of the house, whose former ward and heir Neville is the athletic tennis player, with an ex-wife Audrey and a new young wife Kay.
Neville Strange (there’s a clue in the name) comes over as an amiable chap played by Gareth Griffiths and is flanked by two very different wives – Rebecca Williams as Kay, really showed us the mercurial, fiery hot-head and as a contrast Lucy Ashdown as Audrey, gave us the quiet, unemotional introvert. Both ladies were very watchable, and they certainly had an array of lovely costumes which kept the wardrobe department busy.
A natural performance from Lyn Critchley as Mary, the Lady’s companion and a solid performance from David Tolcher as Treves the solicitor. I did like Terence Caddick’s Thomas Ryde, a man of few words but the look and the pipe were really well observed for a character that doesn’t have a lot to do. The projection was a little low in the first scene, but he found his voice. Maybe his speech about the novel he is reading could have been highlighted more because the title ‘Towards Zero’ is somewhat explained. Mark Latham, who was also the director, played Ted Latimer, kay’s friend and he brought some energy to the stage with a strong and confident delivery. Superintendent Battle was played by Steve Youster, sporting the customary beige rain-mac but it was the character of his niece, Leach played by Debbie Smith who stole the show. The enthusiast and conscientious new inspector had real energy and got some comedy out of it. A small part but always in character – she made me laugh and I certainly needed that.
The play doesn’t have any of the intricacies of the novel but for those who love a murder mystery and lap up Agatha Christie’s cream, then this may be an entertaining evening out. It runs until Saturday.
Reviewer: Bev Clark
Reviewed: 13th June 2023
North West End UK Rating: