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

More mysteries than expected

The Unexpected Guest

The Grange Players

Grange Playhouse, Walsall


AGATHA Christie has given us a guest who is certainly unexpected but even more inexplicable for much of the evening. It did not seem to make sense that a total stranger who turns up after having a car accident should allow himself to be drawn into a murder mystery when most of us would have made our excuses and left. 

But the guest, on whose behalf Richard Howell is parading under the remarkable name of Michael Starkwedder, proves pretty rapidly to be a bonus in Dexter Whitehead's production. Both in the first scene and in the last, he and Zoe Maisey, as Laura, provide a busy conversational exchange that is excellently handled – with Starkwedder becoming somewhat surprisingly touch-feely towards the woman he has only just met in the most trying of circumstances. 

It is also surprising to find that the meat of the sandwich, despite being so efficiently wrapped, cannot lay claim to equalling its packaging. This is due to the two-man police force which turns up to try to ascertain who shot the man in his wheelchair. It is less in evidence after the interval, but before then Inspector Thomas (David Stone) has proffered an unnervingly slow delivery, keeping us on the edge of our seats in case he doesn't make it to the end of his sentence.  


And Sergeant Cadwallader (Martin Groves), while he does have some intentionally amusing moments, gives tongue in a manner hinting at what René in ‘Allo ‘Allo might do if he were required to produce a Welsh accent. Moreover, there is clearly an unusual relationship between these two outposts of the constabulary, because while the inspector is standing up and purposefully pursuing his enquiries the sergeant is sitting at ease in an armchair with the ankle of one leg draped across the knee of the other. 

Elsewhere, the outlook is brighter. Joseph Cryan provides a lively account of Jan Warwick, the younger brother of the murdered man – hard-pressed to contain his excitement at all the sudden goings-on. Rachel Garratt and Chas Burnell do well as the housekeeper and matriarchal figure respectively, and Adrian Venables is required to come up with a diffident line in blackmail as Henry Angell. 

Adam Woodward has the right degree of confidence as Julian Farrar, the would-be MP – yellow Liberal tie and all. 

There is, inevitably, the Christie twist at the end – but it is odd that Dame Agatha, having required the inspector to refuse to allow one of his other interviewees to be present when he was about to question young Jan Warwick, was happy for him not to bat an eyelid when Laura arrived to sit in on the action. It all takes place on the pleasing set that Martin Groves has designed.To 22.5.10.

John Slim


And a fairly unwelcome guest . . .

(not Mr Marston of course) 


THERE was an unexpected extra mystery at two performances of this Agatha Christie thriller - how the splendid cast managed to cope with the blaring music and vocal noise from a funfair in the adjacent Arboretum extension.

It penetrated the theatre walls, was distracting for the audience, but the actors never faltered and made sure every word was heard until the fair closed at the end of the first act. The fair moved on at the weekend, thankfully.

What seems an improbable start to the play, with a stranger crashing his car in night-time fog, wandering through the unlocked rear doors of Richard and Laura Warwick's South Wales home, discovering a murder and then helping the attractive widow concoct an alibi, is cleared up in the final scene, after another death.

In typical Christie style, the suspects come thick and fast and David Stone, playing Inspector Thomas, has his hands full investigating who shot the wheelchair-bound Mr Warwick.

Zoe Maisey gives a compelling performance as Laura who at first tells the stranger, Michael Starkwedder, well played by Richard Howell, that she has committed the crime. But the plot quickly thickens.

Joseph Cryan is excellent as Warwick's retarded half brother, Jan, and there is a sound contribution from Chas Burnell, who took on the role of Mrs Warwick senior at short notice. But the Welsh accent of Martin Groves (Sgt Cadwallader) remains a mystery!

The set, splendidly designed by Martin Groves, is beautifully constructed for the play directed by Dexter Whitehead and produced by Chris Waters. To 22.5.10

Paul Marston

The funfair made its presence known on Friday and Saturday, the second and third nights of the production. It was not in evidence on opening night. 01922 649168 

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