Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

murder probe

Hello, hello, hello: Kerry Frater as DI Appleton questions Andy Sargent's seated Glenn and sister-in-law Helen played by Rebecca Holmes while actress friend Sheila, Kerry Grehan , looks ready for a quick exit, stage right. Pictures. Alastair Barnsley

Suddenly at Home

Highbury Theatre Centre


If you enjoy a good whodunnit then you will only have about 20 minutes to wait to find the answer in this 1971 thriller from Francis Durbridge – he of Paul Temple fame for older readers.

The trick here is not so much who did it, something we discover almost before we have time to get comfortable, but will they get away with it, as bits of the killer's best laid plans prove Rabbie Burns right by going awry.

Maggie Howard has been left £750,000 – equivalent to about £12 million today (why can’t we have relatives like that?) - and is living a life of quiet luxury as a lady of leisure with husband Glenn, who rather resents the fact his wife sees his miserly income of £7,000 a year (about £100,000 today) as peanuts.

Louise Grifferty gives us a rather laid back Maggie – easy with that much in the piggy bank - who is desperate to move to Bermuda where she can indulge herself with similar well-heeled friends in a sort of luxurious, permanent holiday in the sun.

Glenn, on the other hand, can think of nothing worse than a life of opulent boredom as a kept man amongst ex-pats and, as a grade A philanderer, with a £750,000 inheritance just the odd murder away, we can take it Maggie is not going to make it to the interval.

In the hands of Andy Sargent, Glenn is a somewhat unlikeable, impatient man, with a sort of seething anger floating just below the surface and which shows in flashes at the slightest irritation, and just about every little thing irritates him.

Glenn and Maggie

Unhappy families: Glenn with soon to be late wife Maggie, played by Louise Grifferty  

It is not just the money or the thought of being dragged to Bermuda that drives him though, but his lust – one suspects he is not emotionally capable of love – for another woman – and initially there could be a choice here, in order of appearance.

First there is Helen, played by Rebecca Holmes, Maggie’s sister who has a know it all, possessive husband Alec, then as an outside bet there is Ruth, played by Becky Round, the pretty French – we assume from the ‘Allo ‘Allo accent – housekeeper and finally we have the favourite in this Maiden Stakes, Sheila, Maggie’s actor friend – blonde and an attractive femme fatale if ever there was one. Oh, and she is also a junkie, heroin being her drug of choice with Glenn her dealer.

Kerry Grehan makes her both compliant and vulnerable and produces a nice scene when she is tired and emotional as a newt, to use the old George Brown description. Slurred words, arms and legs with a mind of their own, it is a nicely portrayed and convincing moment of sloshedness – if that is a word – without descending into look at me I’m drunk slapstick comedy.

Meanwhile to give old Glenn his due, he has worked out this murder lark with military precision designing a plan which has been evolving over several days, providing timings and alibis that not only clear him but lay the blame for his wife’s sad demise on her ex-lover Sam – a lover before she met Glenn in case you jump to lurid conclusions.

She left Sam Blaine for Glenn and Sam, is now a successful novelist who lives outside London in the country, somewhere in Kent from Glenn’s study of the map.

Sam is a cheerful cove in the hands of Dave Douglas, perhaps a bit too cheerful considering the police should have him bang to rights for Maggie’s murder . . . unless his novelist’s intuition knows something we don’t.

Durbridge chucks in a few red herrings to fry along the way – although where a police surgeon comes into things is a mystery – surely it should be a pathologist, but we will let that one pass – and he gives us the full force of the law, or at least the appearance of the police in the shape of DI Appleton, played by Kerry Frater.


Glenn and Helen helping with the inquiries of Supt. Remick, played by Dawn Vigurs

Appleton seems more of a plodder than a Sweeney type and the police case does not seem to be making any more headway under Supt Remick, played by Dawn Vigurs, who asks awkward questions only to get awkward answers.

As soon as the first thread of Glenn’s plan comes loose though, we all know it is going to unravel and come crashing around his head, the question is how and when.

And a few overheard conversations, a misplaced word here and there and the recalled memory of missing emotions later, we get the answers as Glenn is finally exposed as the killer in the dramatic final scene.

The End

Except it isn’t. Just as we are getting ready to applaud a well delivered thriller and head off into the cold night, up pops a final twist in the tail to bring the curtain down with a bang.

Liz Parry has kept the tension level high and on track in a well-paced production which, incidentally, is dedicated to the memory of long-time Highbury member Barbara Garrett, who died last year. She was to have directed this production and Liz stepped in to create this fitting tribute.

As always Highbury has built a substantial, splendid set, designed by Malcolm Robertshaw while Alastair Barnsley’s sound design gave us Samuel Barber’s Adagio as sombre music at the opening of each act and pauses for costume changes which were, thankfully, short enough not to cause too much loss of momentum.

Knowing who the murderer is from the start is a different sort of thriller, and with such an ingenious plan it comes down to seeing if our cold-blooded killer, who left nothing linking him to the death of his wife, is going to get away with it.

It will keep you guessing until the final few moments, and then some, in what is an entertaining and intriguing tale of murder, deception and betrayal. To 21-04-18.

Roger Clarke


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