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


Crozier (Dave Doble) watches Vivien Norwood (Maura Judges) talking to the Drurys, Robert (Dan Payne) and Stella (Michelle Dawes)

House Guest

Highbury Theatre Centre


Those of us of a certain age, and memories in black and white, will remember the Francis Durbridge Presents series of plays on TV and even, by Timothy, that brilliant amateur detective of TV and radio fame, Paul Temple.

Well, how we could have done with Mr Temple’s deductive powers to guide us through the labyrinthine plot of Durbridge’s 1976 play House Guest.

It all starts so simply, so, well, middle class and civilised. Film star Robert Drury, a well rounded performance by Dan Payne, has gone to Rome with young son Michael, to discuss a film deal with an Italian producer.

His wife Stella, a lovely, believable performance from Michelle Dawes, is a former actress, but has not made a film now for three years, so is surprised that journalist Vivien Norwood, a matter of fact Maura Judges, wants to interview her – an interview Stella didn’t want and is only doing it after being persuaded by Robert’s secretary Jane, played with suitable efficiency by Carol Deakin. 


A bevy of baddies with Major Crozier (Dave Doble) and Inspector Burford (Paul Steventon-Marks)

It seems Jane is merely repaying a favour for her friend Vivien. It’s all very civilised. We even have a housekeeper, wonderful woman we are told, who never appears on this Malcolm Robertshaw set littered with Art Deco touches which had become popular again in the 1980s when the play is set.

This cosy scene is torn apart when a clearly distressed Robert returns unexpectedly, and without Michael, to set in train a plot that will keep you guessing for the rest of the evening.

Without giving much away we discover Michael has been abducted and he, or at least his survival, is the key to an intriguing roller coaster of a plot with one common theme. All of the baddies want to spend the next couple of days as house guests of the Drury’s.

Not that that is the safest option, mind, as the house becomes an undertakers delight with deaths a plenty in a murder triumvirate of a stabbing, a shooting and a strangling – possibly there wasn’t enough time, or cast, to fit in a poisoning as well. 

We have Crozier an outwardly affable rogue with a penchant for violence, a major apparently, played with a jaunty air by Dave Doble, and then there is Inspector Burford, a sort of vaguely effeminate, Irish psychopath with not so much a penchant, you suspect, as a need for violence.  It is a performance with a constant hint of menace from Paul Steventon-Marks

There is no such niceties as a hint from Sergeant Clayton, sneered as much as played by Mark Fletcher. He is just an out and out thug, even adding a few sexual overtones into threats you suspect are only just being kept under control.

The inspector informs Robert that one of the kidnappers has been murdered . . . in the Drury's country cottage, stabbed with Robert's ceremonial knife - but how sure are we about that? Could it be a red, or in this case, a dead herring to confuse us even more?

Flitting in and out we have Dorothy, Robert’s cousin, played in a sort of vacuous way by Jane Ware. Dorothy doesn’t have a clue as to what is going on around her at any time or place, she pops in at inopportune times, talks mainly about herself and her endless job interviews all while ignoring, or more likely, not noticing, the mayhem reigning about her.


Dorothy (Jane Ware) outstaying her welcome, oblivious to tension in the air, with a worried Robery (Dan Payne).

Now while Michael is the key to control, Philip Henderson is the key to success. Why? Well, that would be telling. He is played by Andy Neap according to the programme . . . but let’s just say Philip Henderson and Robert Drury are never seen on stage at the same time. Just saying . . .

The plot has twists and turns a plenty and we are left unsure if anyone is quite who they seem or can be trusted, and it is well into the second act, with the appearance of the by then mysterious character Mr Henderson, that it starts to make any sense at all and as it all falls into place the game changes from why to become guessing if they will get away with it, or, finding what fatal mistake have they made to bring about their downfall – and you won’t find out until the very last line.

Opening night it was all there with suitable tension and the pervading whiff of violence in the air – along with three murders to emphasise the point. The plot points you firmly in a direction but with no destination in sight, just a kidnapping, a 48 hour Sc-Airbnb request and three murders and, of course, the arrival of the mysterious Mr Henderson who may, or may not, be the Mr Big in this nefarious scheme.

The only thing lacking at times was a hint of pace, but, as always, with first night now behind them, that should pick up in what is a heady and entertaining mix for thriller fans. Directed by Liz Parry the house guests will be around to 11-12-21.

Roger Clarke


Highbury Theatre Centre

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