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AGATHA CRUSTY AND THE VILLAGE HALL MURDERS 

by Derek Webb

H.A.T.S


It is always interesting to see a play for the first time – more so perhaps when it happens to be a play never heard of before. In my wanderings around member companies, that doesn’t happen very often but here I was faced with one.  My first reaction was to give a pat on the back to the company for their spirit of adventure and their chance to be completely original – there not being much chance of seeing a neighbouring production which could be used for information or comparison.  My reaction was well founded because your production proved to be both original and entertaining.

An obvious idea gleaned from Agatha Christie and her Miss Marple stories was cleverly adapted into this story of village murders.  The author however liberally bestowed, one might even say, enriched his story with humorous characterisations from his players.  This your cast proceeded to enact with gusto and much obvious personal enjoyment, keeping the production bubbling along while still keeping the audience guessing almost to the end.  I was still in a quandary when we reached the final dénouement when Miss Marples – in our case Agatha Crusty – gathers the whole cast who is still alive – and in great detail proves us all wrong, and unmasks the culprit.  In our case, Agatha, who happens to be a crime novelist, is on a visit to her sister-in-law, Alice, when, through no fault of her own, she becomes involved in a series of murders in the village, which are seemingly directed at members of the Village Hall committee.  Most of  the cast seem to be suspects, almost like Midsomer Murders, but in our story the investigating officer is proving to be hilariously incompetent, so will we ever reach a solution?  Imponderable, but with Agatha fortuitously on hand, we very well might.

The curtain opened to reveal a typical room in a Village hall, possibly tucked away behind the stage somewhere.  The room was multi-purpose, catering for committee meetings, organisational planning, auditions for the Christmas pantomime, storage of cleaning materials etc. etc.  The walls were half-panelled in what looked like wood and there were various folding chairs and a table also folded in a card table manner.  This furniture was used when necessary in various scenes expertly positioned by the actors involved.  Doors SL and SR and USL a large wall cupboard used to store brushes, mops, buckets and cast unlucky enough to become locked, either suspiciously or inadvertently, in there.  A simple set one might say, but extremely typical, purposeful and redolent with atmosphere, when one considers that there were six scenes in Act One and five in Act Two.  A large notice board was visible on the back wall, containing announcements, notices, events etc and days of the week cleverly changed at the end of each scene by Harry, the caretaker.  Clever and totally understandable of your director, as, with eleven separate scenes in the play, I would imagine audience could be confused as to the passage of time.

In plays such as this, a big factor has to be team work.  Actors have to feed each other, play off, with and for each other and be sensitive towards dropping clues, covering up guilt and suspicion, and generally reacting to things said – facial expression is most important and should reflect thoughts signifying surprise, shock, confirmation, worry, anger, concern, belief etc and I am pleased to say that there were very few blank faces on show in your entire production to-night.  Very commendable as this play demands that you try to confuse your audience, give them doubts and make them think again, as most of them will feel they have solved whodunit before it is announced.  Dorothy must have worked hard on these red herrings in rehearsal because interest throughout was maintained by your audience watching cast antics on stage.  Well done.

Agatha was played by Barbara Williamson, who gave us a super characterisation akin to a woman sleuth without actually being one.  She had enviable pace, maintained splendid interest in the story and made her comments, suspicions, questions and assumptions with complete clarity.  You were well served by having an actress of Barbara’s experience and ability in such a role because, of course, it has to be played in the most articulate of ways there being a mass of dialogue to get across in the most conversational way, belying the fact that it is script studiously learned Barbara gave it just that and her handling of the solution was quite special.  As we learned more of Twigg we could see how well she was able to tie him up in knots, intellectually.  Well played by both.

 Gerry Blair played Twigg, the not too bright detective inspector.  He established the character as soon as he entered and we recognised officialdom, discipline and procedure right away.  As we got to know him better, our doubts turned to certainties and our doubts now consisted of “how did he ever make detective inspector?”  It was very well played by Gerry who throughout played this character with complete confidence, ease, no doubts whatsoever about his ability despite being proved so wrong so often and not just by Agatha.  His explanations via the display charts - e.g.MRS (Motive, Revenge, Sex)  – were quite hilarious and as we got to know him better as the story went on, we realised, despite all his frailties, we liked Twigg and enjoyed knowing him.  Well played.  

Anita Partridge played Eleanor, the committee chair person.  She was all things to everybody and as she had to be, was very articulate, beautifully spoken and with a good stage presence.  She was busy and quite distracted with all the demands made upon her by her committee position.  Not only that she was responsible for directing the annual pantomime, and we saw her hilariously doing over her lines with Snow White (Mandy), which almost resulted in her being poisoned, Isabella too.  Her passionate feelings for the vicar were beautifully caricatured but unfortunately with no result – I’m sure he must have realised.  Most men in the audience would have and wondered about their future possibilities.  Well done.

Frank Oates was the vicar who steadfastly denied Eleanor but seemed to be fast running out of excuses.  He played the role as a typical country vicar, always there when needed to give help and advice..  A warm, convincing performance with an easy confident manner and a great feed for some comedy moments, but having said he wasn’t married,  the wedding ring should have been covered.

James Eckersley had a very difficult dual role as Oliver and his twin sister Olivia both village gentry.  How he kept going all night with his ons and offs, changes of costume and voice and never an error or a late entrance is James’ secret alone.  He had much to do as both characters and didn’t forget his shot gun.  Well done – a well deserved individual bow.

Chris Silke played the village caretaker, to the manner born, Karen Newman (a new member) was Agatha’s sister-in-law, Jeanette Thornley played Maisie the cleaner, Adam Wright was P.C. Locket, the village bobby, Lara Daintree played the village pub landlady and Maria Holloway was a model.  All contributed convincingly to this entertaining, interesting production which was the product of valuable rehearsal in which the cast obviously put in some hard and dedicated work, culminating in enjoyable team work by all.

Congratulations to Doreen Cockshoot on her original ideas and putting together a production which thoroughly entertained the audience and drew challenging performances from her cast.

Thank you for your warm welcome and kind hospitality. Happy playmaking.