Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
The plot: news of a missing woman reaches the isolated cottage of Mrs. Bramson, a spoilt elderly hypochondriac who bullies her servants, including Olivia, her plain, penniless niece. Mrs Bramson is duped easily by Dan, a young man who arrives uninvited and ingratiates himself with the female household. He winds everyone around his little finger except Olivia, who suspects his true nature as a fantasist and possibly a dangerous psychopath.
The story literally starts with a bang, to set the scene for unexpected happenings, and rises in the second act to a threatening climax and an unexpected outcome. In between, there’s a great deal of humour. Hubert, who is courting Olivia with little success, is played by Alasdair Buchan with a nod to the young men in P.G.Wodehouse’s books of the 1930’s, and Mrs Terence, the redoubtable cook, is played with great gusto by Mandi Symonds: she is not to be bullied and tells her unlovable employer so in no uncertain terms, in every word and gesture, to great comic effect at times.
Gwen Taylor’s Mrs Bramson is self-absorbed and domineering, but vulnerable to flattery. Will Featherstone as Dan manipulates the women with volatile moods; veering from reassuringly (or at times frighteningly) assertive, to charming and entertaining, to scared and infantile, his portrayal of Dan is fluid and charismatic.
All the performances are excellent, individually and ensemble: Melissa Vaughan as the timid maid servant, the victim of Dan’s amoral lust; Darah O’Malley, who as Inspector Belsize strikes a note from “An Inspector Calls”; Nurse Libby, tactful district nurse, and Niamh McGrady, who as Olivia (in reality anything but “plain”) manages to make an unexpected change of heart convincing – but I’ll say no more.
This is a well-crafted, vivid production that transcends its period setting, with blood-curdling surprises – but no blood. Go and catch this classic psychological thriller at the Yvonne Arnaud this week if you enjoy suspense, humour and the ever-present possibility of “things that go bump in the night”.
This review will be published on the Essential Surrey website today, with photos and details of how to buy tickets.