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

milo and wyke

A gentleman's agreement . . . possibly. Rajesh Bedi as Milo and Mark Nattrass as Wyke


Sutton Arts Theatre


Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth takes the art of murder mysteries to a new level. In a classic from the queen of the genre Agatha Christie the game was to unravel the plot and solve the mystery, in Sleuth the mystery and indeed the plot is the game itself.

What is real and what is merely a prop in a deadly game of charades merge as you are left to decide who is the victor when the winner takes, or maybe loses all.

It is a clever plot spawning three films since it first played its deadly way through the Theatre Royal in Brighton back in 1970, with the 1972 version adapted by Shaffer himself and starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine perhaps being the best known.

For those who have not seen the film or the play it is difficult not to give away too much of the plot, it is a cat and mouse mystery with more twists than you will find in the average corkscrew. Reveal any one and the plot could unravel, but we will do our best

We open somewhere in rural Wiltshire in the summer of 1970 in the rambling Norman manor house of thriller writer Andrew Wyke, a man who makes a very comfortable living producing rather old-fashioned mysteries of country house crimes solved by his aristocratic amateur detective, St. John Merridew.

Mark Natrass gives him a splendid air of upmarket eccentricity bordering on out and out madness. We find him first as he completes his latest novel, acting out its dénouement, like a happy child playing a new game, and that is followed by the next game.

The doorbell rings and enter his invited guest, Milo Tindle, a travel agent of modest income who has just rented a cottage in the village – oh, and I almost forgot, he is also the lover of Wyke’s wife, Marguerite, who is about to leave Wyke for her holiday broker paramour with his flat above his shop in unfashionable south London.

It is all very polite and gentlemanly, Wyke has apparently agreed to a divorce and Milo has even arrived with a wish to ask Wyke’s permission, or at least approval, to marry his wife. How very civilised.

Or it would be, were it not that Wyke is obsessed with games, the house full of them, a small snooker table in the corner, some fiendishly complex eastern game on the table . . . and a man wanting to marry his wife, his prize, his property . . . well that is an exciting new game.

Rajesh Bedi gives Milo a rather inoffensive air, a man who has found himself caught up in a triangle that can only manage love on two sides. Wyke seems to be glad to get Marguerite off his hands, with her profligate ways, need of expensive holidays and luxurious living, leaving him free to indulge himself with his mistress, Thea.

His only concern is whether Milo, on his travel agency income, can even come close to keeping Marguerite in the manner to which she has become . . .  dependent. A manner dependent upon the income of, say, for example, a remarkably successful thriller writer in a Norman manor house with staff, rather than a journeyman travel agent living in a rented flat above his rented shop,

Which is the setting for a game, a game in which Milo gets the cash he needs to finance his new marital acquisition, £90,000 of it, about £1.4 million today, and Wyke? Well he gets compensation for his sad loss of matrimonial comfort, around £135,000 of it, £2.1 million today. It is a game involving jewels with the only losers being the insurers.

sleuth gun

All in the gun . .  sorry, game for Wyke

Or are they? This is Wyke’s game remember, and in his game there are winners and losers and if he wins . . . well that means Milo loses.

But losers always want a rematch, and then you need a decider, best of five and so on, and on, and on . . .

The real mystery becomes what is real and what is part of the game as police become involved, with the plodding Inspector Doppler investigating a murder when the game goes wrong . . . or does it.

Marguerite and Thea have become little more than pawns, tokens, prizes, merely possessions to protect, steal or use in a macho game between two men showing how clever and inventive they are.

But as games become more serious, more deadly, so do the stakes and the level of jeopardy until the final whistle is blown and the winner is . . . ah, now that would be telling, and you don’t want me to spoil the game, do you.

Nattrass shows a Wyke who has moods that change by the minute from supreme confidence to frantic panic, from superior sneering to controlled anger, determined cruelty to abject snivelling all wrapped in a mix of class, with the upper-class Wyke looking down upon the second generation, half-Jewish, Italian immigrant, middlish class Milo.

He also looks down on the plods, the police, almost as if he believes he is his character, Merridew, the amateur detective, solving crimes that baffle the intellectually challenged constabulary.

Bedi, who is respectful of Wyke, rather than in awe, at their first meeting, slowly finds a competitive nature as the game starts to drift away, relishing his chance of revenge and watching Wyke squirm.

The pair seem to be enjoying themselves immensely on stage in what is an intriguing plot laced with rather dark humour amid all the twists and turns on a wonderful set from Paul Wescott, maintaining what has become a tradition of realistic, quality sets at Sutton.

Director Claire Armstrong-Mills has let the play flow, at times amusing, at times shocking, with its sardonic asides and funny comments as real or game merge into one. It's almost half a century old but director and cast have managed to keep it looking fresh and modern.

If you have never seen Sleuth it is an entertaining, intriguing game of cat, mouse and possibly murder, or possibly not, and if you have seen it, this is a good version to play the game all over again again. To 02-11-19.

Roger Clarke


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