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

dinner party

Al McCaughey as Alex, Debbie Dyer as Jo with Kate Edmunds as Angela and Matt Ludlum as Henry in rehearsal

Disposing of the body

Hall Green Little Theatre


When a wife goes missing, then, if we discount alien abduction and hostage taking, that still leaves us with plenty of possible scenarios.

Was she mentally disturbed, suicidal even? Had she and her husband had relationship ending row? Had she run to a secret lover, or simply decided to leave . . . or had husband just decided it was time for a change and executed the until death us do part clause in the marriage vows?

Author Hugh Whitemore provides us with all the options, including one more, the catalyst of many a breakup, in football parlance, playing away from home, and in this case a regular local derby.

It all starts when Henry Preece and wife Angela set off to visit Henry’s sister Kate in the Cotswolds and, being early, stop for a shop and pop into a local estate agents and end up buying a house.

It’s not quite as bizarre as it seems as Henry, a partner in a high end-audio company, has just been made redundant after the other partner retired leaving his son - more business than technical minded – in charge and having the inevitable new broom reorganisation.

So, the comfortably off couple move to an idyllic rural life in the Cotswolds with their nearest neighbours being Alexander Barley and his wife Joanna. Alex is a rather droll and at times acerbic school teacher, while wife Jo was a secretary to a firm of Cirencester architects who have just gone bust.

So, as Henry is writing a book on rare records and cataloguing his huge collection of HMV 78s, and needs a part time secretary, Jo is available and happy for a part time job. The die has been cast.

We discover Henry’s nuptials have been notials for several years which adds a little fuel to the flickering flame in the furnace, and for those who thought sex was what coal came in in Solihull, Henry is quite happy to give us a blow by blow account of his lunch with his secretary, complete with shower in an empty room, booked in as Mr and Mrs Stevenson at a nearby posh hotel.


Writer, secretary . . . husband and lover. Henry and Jo

That might be merely titillation except the manager of the hotel, Bassett, played with a complete and commendable lack of charm by Michael Lynch, turns out to be a member of the local chapter of the moral guardians, grassing old Henry up to the police and then barring him entry with malice on decency grounds.

He is perhaps not the best person to run a hotel and certainly not the manager you want in charge if you really are called Mr and Mrs Smith . . .

But we are ahead of ourselves. With Henry and Jo now an illicit item, all swings along nicely as one might say, until Angela goes off on the morning train for a shopping trip to London. It is the last we will see of her.

Now on the face of it Henry and Angela are a normal, happyish couple, successful, up to being put out to grass that is, but still financially comfortable, with a son, Ben, working in medical research in California. A pleasant, stress free life of retirement.

Henry’s enforced celibacy, until Jo that is, suggests there is more angst beneath the surface than we are aware of and we are to discover Henry has a touch of the OCDs which must have driven Angela to distraction.

Matt Ludlam is a wonderful Henry. You can feel his frustrations at his lot and hear him wondering at detailed length if there are millions of middle aged men who, like him, are condemned to a life of enforced and unwanted chastity. Sex, or lack of it, is sowing the seeds of infidelity yet we also see the love riding along on the strange feeling of distance he feels about his wife.

Angela, in the capable hands of Kate Edmunds, is an attractive, middle-aged wife with a penchant for griping about minor things and events, not the best with an OCD husband. She might have sex appeal but you feel the appeal would fall on deaf ears – which probably takes the lover theory off the board.

Al McCaughey’s French teacher Alex is a delight. Nothing seems serious to him, not that he is a great joker, just congenitally cheerful, witty, clever, a little pompous and it turns out, an innocent when it comes to adultery, suspecting nothing when Jo starts working every afternoon for Henry.

Jo, attractive, middle aged Jo, has a sort of vamp appeal in the shape of Debbie Dyer, who you suspect has a life which might be cheerful in Alex’s cynical sort of way but somewhat light on excitement and sexual adventure so Henry was already marked out for a bit, or in his case, a lot on the side from when the two families first met.


Wives and secrets, Jo and Angela

Angela’s disappearance creates a whirl of emotions in Henry, he blames himself, merely for having told Jo he hoped his wife would disappear, and then the thought she may have discovered his affair with Jo.

Something he confesses to sister Kate, played by assistant director Louise Price, who gives us a very matter of fact sibling, who shocks Henry by revealing she had also had an affair, with her boss, so it was almost normal.

The missing person inquiry brings in the debut director Jonathan Richardson as DI Poole who gives us a wonderful long speech on morality and the needs for survival of the human species and whether monogamy really was the best system or just an invention, like religion, by man. There is a lovely irony when he tells us he studied philosophy but gave that up to become a policeman so he wouldn't have to worry about what's right and what's wrong. The law did it for him.

Remember Bassett, the hotel manager? Well, he tells the police about the Stevenson incident, Poole raises it and Henry’s frayed life starts to fall apart.

Full of remorse Henry tells Alex of the affair, and McCaughey gives us a convincing mix of devastating anguish and a man on the verge of violence in his anger. You really feel for him.

Joel Patel’s affable Ben has arrived home worried about his mother and the gloves comes off when he is also informed of the adultery with Henry trying to give some explanation. His reaction is an angry condemnation, angrily declaring: “You're not a human being, you're my father. Fathers don't fuck the next-door neighbour!”

A pit in the garden with charred remains in the bottom becomes one line of inquiry and then we are given a more direct option by Henry, and then there is yet another explanation, which gives us something to think about on the way home.

The play is a collection of scenes set in the two households, Kate’s home and the hotel, all divided by monologues by the characters to express feelings, or give explanations or fill in an event, creating windows in the fourth wall, which is an effective way to advance the story but also gives us a glimpse into the minds of the characters.

It demands a well worked lighting design from Tal Bainbridge and director Richardson. The set, from the director, again, and Steve Fisher is simple, but effective, The play us about human frailty, relationships and a mystery. As for disposing of a body, first you need a body.

The result is a clever script with a plot which is always, intriguingly, just out of reach in a tale told by an excellent cast which will keep you guessing to the end . . . and beyond. To 16-03-23.

Roger Clarke


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