Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

Not to be confused with Murder by Death, or Death by Fatal Murder, or even Murdered to Death.

This is the three-hander by Manhattan playwright David Foley, also known as If/Then or Deadly Game, in which a jewellery designer to the rich and famous foolishly invites a handsome young waiter up to her stylish Soho loft apartment.

Between curtain-up and climax there are enough twists, bluffs and blind alleys to satisfy the most demanding aficionado of the genre [think Sleuth or Deathtrap], all played with polished flair by the Cut to the Chase company, directed by Hornchurch associate Simon Jessop.

Jessop himself has a Hitchcock moment as the voice of radio DJ Jesse Redmayne, but the only familiar face on stage belongs to Sam Pay, giving a strong, credible performance as the increasingly desperate security man Ted.

The central role of Camille Dargus is played by Lucy Benjamin. As the night wears on, and the stakes are raised in the “games that bind us”, she grows weary and haggard before our eyes – a great performance, even though the hysterics, and the wise-cracks even at the most critical moments, outweigh the tender, touching moments like the emotionally charged lines about the Emerald Star.

Tom Cornish is Billy, the waiter who dreams of fame and riches. Not as young, or as handsome, as the text suggests, he is nonetheless a powerful, menacing figure, cleverly messing with the mind of his victim.

During the course of the night, power shifts, secrets are revealed and a life is lost before the enigmatic ending, when reality is left behind, the plot is twisted one last time and the curtain falls on a question mark.

To say more would be to spoil the fun. There are too many improbables, too much melodrama for a really first class psychological thriller, but it's done here with such style that it hardly seems to matter. The setting, the music, the sound effects – the voices amplified for immediacy, as in a film – all add to the atmosphere. The party – where Camille meets Billy – is evoked with smoke, bubbles and a mirror ball. The aquarium glows blood red as things take an unpleasantly gory turn – and the fish get a well-deserved curtain call of their own.

Rodney Ford's superbly realised apartment has bare brick, arches and windows, leather and chrome furniture, with the kitchen glimpsed off-stage. It's used effectively for the action – some impressively convincing violence – as well as for the intimate moments.

This is not Greek tragedy, Camille.” “This is not a Quentin Tarantino movie.” Indeed not, though we have a hint of incest, a Pulp Fiction poster prominently placed, and a props list that includes a large suitcase, plastic bags and a meat cleaver …

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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