CTW at the Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
Patrick Hamilton's classic thriller relies heavily on atmosphere, both physical and psychological.
For some reason, perhaps to do with the raised stage, atmosphere seems hard to achieve at the Old Court.
But this polished production combines design, acting and directorial skills to produce a very impressive piece of theatre.
The oppressive Victorian parlour – designer Mark Tree – sets the mood, helped by sympathetic lighting, though I was not convinced by the gas lamps themselves.
The five principal roles were well cast; even the policeman looked Victorian.
Compelling performances from Sarah Bell as the young wife who's the victim of her sinister husband's mind games – a woman on the edge, tearful, desperate but strong at last as she gives the knife a final twist in the powerful dénouement. Her Manningham, all sneers and sideways glances, is chillingly done by Colin Smith; controlling and vindictive, he nonetheless eschews histrionics, rarely needing to raise his voice. The servants are nicely contrasted – Rachel Curran's kindly Elizabeth and Corinne Woodgate's flirtatious minx Nancy.
Andy Perrin is memorably compelling as “the celebrated Sergeant Rough” - a cheery soul, with a fondness for Scotch and sweet tea. We can suspect, with Bella, that he might be a dream, an angel, and yet he is reassuringly human, untangling the plot with an assured efficiency and a reassuring smile.
Like the set, the play is beautifully constructed, and Christine Davidson's production [Barry Taylor her assistant director] has many effective moments: the hurtful “theatre ticket” volte-face done at the swag curtains, the hard-hearted husband turning his back as he deftly changes the mood from fond consideration to cruel spite.
rehearsal photograph: Leanne Young