With a writer like this, you know that, whatever else, you are in for a thrilling, complex story full of intrigue, red herrings, nice people who turn out to be liars, and an unforeseen twist in the tale, and that is exactly what the large first night audience received, and embraced warmly. Of course I won’t tell you who did it, but I’ll try to say how I thought it was done.
It’s foggy this November night, in rural Wales in the 1950s. Poor Michael Starkwedder has not only crashed his car in a ditch, but when he goes to the nearest house for help he is immediately confronted by the still-warm body of Richard Warwick, and Richard’s wife Laura standing nearby with a gun in her hand. Amazingly (too amazingly?), our hero Michael, apparently a righteous good egg, is immediately attracted to Laura and talks her into firstly letting the gun go and then covering up her crime. The next morning, our local long-in-the-tooth police inspector arrives, with his eager sergeant close by, all the residents are interviewed – you know the formula – and we’re off on a journey through family secrets, a devious politician, a cloying mother and an unwell brother. Mr Starkwedder stays close by all the time.
This is a very good production, with highly professional production values: a superbly designed and built set, great lighting and sound, and fine costumes. An accidental glass breakage on stage didn’t trouble actors or stage management; they calmly worked around it and then cleared it up. However, the pace of the production is very slow, some of the acting is rather wooden, and the characters have a two-dimensional quality that would have upset the writer. Richard Oliver’s Starkwedder is solid and reliable but seems to have little emotional range or heart, Rebecca Warrington’s Laura is constantly on the verge of hysteria rather than being sensual and voluptuous, and David Herridge’s local politician should be more of a high-rolling, greasy type of man. All of these things are in the writing but are lacking in performance. Terry Gallager directs with an accomplished eye for visual detail and smoothly moves the characters around the well-designed space, but eventually I didn’t really care about any of these people as much as Agatha would have wanted me to.