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

Clever thriller with a touch of class

Staff meeting: Irene (Deb Attwood), Dorian (Phil Sheffield), Aileen (Karen Whittingham), Frank (Tony Stamp), Rachel  (Jane Williams) and Mrs Gregory (Liane Purnell) and Rose (Georgia Instone).

Death in High Heels

Dudley Little Theatre

Netherton Arts Centre


THE stitch and bitch world of haute couture gets its seams in a real twist one of the staff in the poshest of posh frock shops heads off to that great wardrobe in the sky after collapsing and sewing her last in the staffroom.

Was it an accident, suicide, murder most foul? Sit back and enjoy as this intriguing Richard Harris play unravels the secrets and foibles of the staff until the police find the answer.

Harris is a prolific writer for TV with series including The Avengers, A Touch of Frost, The Sweeney, Shoestring and the wonderful sitcom based on his stage play Outside Edge.

This cleverly constructed play, published last year, is set in Christophe et Cie, a small fashion house in Regent Street in the 1930s and is based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Christianna Brand.

Brand was a salesgirl at the time and the novel is based, apparently on her fantasies about killing off an annoying co-worker – a common enough pastime; I had a boss once where I suspect the queue of underlings who would happily have killed him off would have stretched from here to Aberdeen – in double file.

DLT have done an excellent job with the costumes. I am no fashion expert, comfort above couture is my motto, but it certainly looks authentic and as for the accents . . .

All credit to the cast for not only managing but also maintaining those clipped, oh-so-proper English tones that used to be a feature of soft focus, black and white films that used to be a feature of Sunday afternoon television. This was a cast without a weak link. We had Frank Bevan, played by Tony Stamp, who had inherited the business from his father and, with the power of hire and fire, promotion and pay in his back pocket indulges his penchant for the adies.

He is about to announce who he will be promoting to manage his new shop opening in Deauville – a bit more upmarket then than now. Whatever the decision it will put the cat, or cats among the pigeons.

The first pigeon is Irene Best, the senior saleswoman played  by Deb Attwood, who is prim and proper, dull and dependable. We don't know much about her and at the end we still don't, except her husband was a birdwatcher who dies from blood poisoning after a peck on the nose.

Then there is Zelda Gregory (Liane Purnell) who sees herself as No 2 to Frank, she is loyal, inconsiderate, bullying and always telling tales to the boss.

Set against here is New Zealander Caroline Doon, played by Jackie Bevan who kept a difficult accent well. She arrived as a sales assistant and is now designer. She can be kind and cruel in the same sentence.

Rachel Gay (Jane Williams) is the newcomer, only there two years. She is quite, demure, always seems to be on the verge of tears and is in the midst of a messy divorce with a secret she is afraid will give her soon-to-be-ex husband ammunition against here.

Like a breath of fresh air we have Aileen Wheeler, the mannequin, played with sexy allure, cami-knickers and suspenders - and great fun by Karen Whittingham.

She models dresses for the customers too precious to try them on themselves and is flighty, flirty and on the lookout for a man with a man-sized wallet to take her  and sees life as something to enjoy, despite Miss Gregory, and despite the secret she carries with her.

Then there is the office manager Dorian Pouvier, played with delicious, mincing campness by Phil Sheffield. Not surprisingly in a shop full of closets he has another guilty secret hidden away in one of them. Dorian, nicknamed Dora, has been coming in for some verbal gay bashing of late, particularly from Miss Doon, who appears to have a real doon on him, so to speak.

Flitting around, slowly, is Rose Macinerny, played by Georgia Instone. She is a sort of cleaner come gofer, come general dogsbody – who has yet another secret and this one relates to Miss Doon!

So when one of the number appears wide-eyed, clutching her throat and choking, and falls down dead, time for first the interval and then the police in the shape of Insp Charlesworth, played by James Silvers and his cynical sidekick Sgt Lillian Wyler, (Rebecca Clee), a no-nonsense copper who trusts no one.

The first act built up the relationships, tensions and loyalties nicely, but Act two suffered a little from a few too many prompts, excellently done by Gina Lovell by the way.

Give the line clearly and quickly. Too many prompts whisper in the hope the audience won't notice. The will and will notice even more if the actors can't here the line.

The problem with prompts is that they introduce pauses with break up rhythm and momentum which is a pity as the play, directed by Lyndsey Parker, was moving along at a really good pace, taking the audience with it is more and more was revealed.

Still, from experience, that will be sorted quickly to leave an intriguing, well paced and cleverly constructed thriller which keeps you guessing right to the end.

Roger Clarke

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