Theatre at Baddow at the Parish Hall
Prolific, popular playwright David Tristram came up with his first comedy whodunnit “just to help out my local am-dram group”. And he's been helping amateur companies all over the world since.
I've been involved with a few in my time, but I still struggle to see the point of staging a play written specially for non-professionals. Even a village cricket team might hesitate before choosing a game which featured under-arm bowling with a tennis ball.
This “comedy thriller” is fifteen years old now; it features a playwright who is visited by his late wife's ghost. She persuades him to write a play, with not even thinly disguised portraits of their fellow actors, in order to “catch the conscience” of her murderer. Shades of Hamlet ? Yes, and copious quotation, too – the play begins with an attempted suicide and that famous soliloquy.
The multi-layered complexities and tortuous twists are well handled by an accomplished cast in Jacquie Newman's polished production. There are laughs along the way, a spine-chilling moment just before the end, and some excellent effects: the moving portrait, the poltergeist typewriter. A little more music might have helped to establish the ghostly mood, and to cover the passing of time in each act.
Roger Saddington gives a sympathetic account of the author, living alone in an attic bedsit with a closet full of gin and a drinks cabinet full of clothes. His landlord, played with style and wit by Tonio Ellis, is flamboyant Alex, who offers moral support to his lodger, and has a nice line in flouncing out of the door. Elvira to Saddington's Charles, the blithe spirit here is Claire Lloyd's elegant, ethereal Ruby. Jade Flack makes the most of the [allegedly] drab and mousy Glenda, while two terrible thespians are milked for all they're worth by Stephanie Yorke-Edwards as the surgically enhanced Frances, and Terry Cole as the bri-nylon-bewigged Hedley.
There are some very funny lines – the acronym sequence, for instance – but also some padding. The plot is convoluted, and takes some following in Act Two especially. I was confused by the absent suspect Howard.
Plenty to keep the loyal TAB audience entertained: ticking off the Shakespeare references, wondering who poisoned poor Ruby's drink, and whether the culprit will be unmasked before Old Nick claims her immortal soul ...