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

Duo shine amid the dark menace


Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre, Worcester


TWO bravura performances dominate Brian J Burton's fine production – as, indeed, they have to if Patrick Hamilton's classic thriller is to yield the tingling spines and the anxious expectation that the script expects of its audiences. 

The story is of two minds – those of husband and wife – locked in battle. Not that it is a very even contest: he is tall, confident, domineering; she is terrified, anxious to please and not in fact looking for any kind of conflict. It is on their relationship that the credibility of the play depends. 

John Horton is the husband, Manningham – fleetingly kind, only to shatter his wife's hopes as he furthers his scheme to drive her mad. He exploits dramatic differences in his delivery, ranging from towering rage to whispers that carry their own kind of alarm, as when he says, “The time has come to face facts.” He speaks with a controlled authority, almost staccato, punching out his sentences as if to defy anyone to stand up to them. When he is left alone in the sitting room, he paces with unhurried strides of measured and ominous authority. 


In the context of a situation in which he is able to give full rein to his intermittent and frighteningly predictable fury, he presents an awesome prospect and it is one against which his naturally submissive wife (Sue Smith) does not have a hope of winning. She offers barely a glimmer of resistance in a fine account of total despair which is deepened by the ritual humiliation she suffers in front of a servant. This is a splendid pairing, never for a moment giving cause to suspect that either of its constituent parts might ever falter in fulfilling the weighty responsibilities that surround them. 

But while these two are the linchpins of the production, Ian Mason provides vital, substantial and unwavering support as the police inspector who arrives to reveal the reason for Manningham's frequent and unexplained disappearances and the cause of the uncertain efficiency of the gaslights in the beautifully appointed sitting room – full marks here to Brian J Burton and Andy Hares. Here we have an inspector totally on top of a role which becomes alarmingly wordy – though there is possibly cause for fleeting anxiety during his confrontation with Manningham, given the significant difference in their stature. We suspect that the hero who has turned up as a knight in shining armour might find himself in some enduring difficulty at crisis point. 

From the servants' quarters – this is a play whose Victorian setting has been updated to Edwardian – come Amber Bluck as the pert, coquettish maid, and Elizabeth Whitehouse as the anxious, loyal housekeeper. They provide the final touches that the production so demonstrably deserves. To 20.2.10

John Slim 

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