Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

... three, four!” Some business with the front cloth, an invocation to Thespis, and we're off on a romp through Ancient Rome, with courtesans, slaves and a eunuch on the fiddle. Comedy tonight !

Keeping the show together, and playing guitar for that delicious vaudeville number Everybody Ought To Have A Maid, was Pseudolus, played by Julian Littman, who was also Musical Director. Prancing, preening, going through his repertoire of gestures and grimaces, he lacked the warmth and comic charm which would have endeared us to him and drawn us into the action.

Senex, a stock character from Roman Comedy, was ably played by Stuart Organ, as he escaped his overbearing wife to have a last fling with the lovely Philia. Lindsay Ashworth was the Gilbertian Domina; her delivery of That Dirty Old Man was brilliant. And the Cretan top-of-the-range courtesan was Natasha Moore. I loved Matthew Quinn's Hysterium, the slave with the cheeky smile who ends up as a dead virgin bride [it's a convoluted plot …] And Oliver Seymour-Marsh, who made an impression in Camp Horror and Ladies Down Under in this house, chalked up another memorable character as the inexperienced Hero, almost upstaged by his canary in his big number, Love I Hear. Steve Simmonds struck poses and sang powerfully as Miles Gloriosus [another archetype]. And James Earl Adair, as Erronius, won the audience over as he jogged myopically round Rome.

Cut to the Chase actors are nothing if not versatile, and everyone pitched in musically, from Philia on flute to Panacea on sax. One of the best sight gags was the double bass in the trunk, prelude to one of the most imaginative numbers, the reluctant slave trio accompanying Impossible – tap dancing thrown in. Great running gags included the Pirates dance and the cod muttering from the put-upon pair of slaves.

As we have come to expect at the Queen's, the set [Mark Walters] was magnificent – three varied houses on two levels for the frons scenae, with a nice cartoon feel to the design, and cunning masks around the curved perimeter of the acting area.

Some of the quick fire routines will be snappier as the run goes on, and the sound balance wasn't always kind to Sondheim's intricate lyrics – nonetheless a stylish revival of a masterwork to mark the composer's 80th birthday year, from one of the most enterprising resident companies in the region.

The show was directed by Queen's Artistic Director Bob Carlton, with choreography by Donna Berlin.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court

John Osborne's version of Wilde's tale was written for television in the 70s. It was praised, and blamed, then for hinting at a homo-erotic attraction between artist and sitter.
But as Lord Henry says, “ … whatever was good enough for our fathers is not good enough for us.” So, like Matthew Bourne's ballet and Oliver Parker's film, Joe Kennedy's staging makes the undercurrent explicit, with full-on snogging with both sexes, an awkward violation before Dorian's cold leave-taking of his actress fiancée, and the Duchess transformed from a dowdy dowager to a thrusting vamp [Ruth Cramphorn, stunning as ever in a scarlet frock].
The women generally did well – a nice cameo from Lynne Foster as the formidable Aunt Agatha, and Leanne Johnson as the actress Sybil Vane. Terry Cole, too, was convincing as Uncle George.
Below stairs, we had two improbably youthful gentleman's gentlemen, perhaps reminding Dorian of the schoolboy he was when he first fell under the spell of Lord Henry, who poisons him with his hedonism and his French literature. And I liked the uniformed skivvies who changed the scene, though I would have liked more than just spill to light their work.
Of the principals, the palm must go to Tony Ellis's Harry, who, despite an idiosyncratic accent, delivered Wilde's glib epigrams and acid wit with real style. He aged well, too. Harry Sabbarton was a Dorian on the brink of corruption, with James Christie a somewhat unartistic Basil. Some dramatic moments from Philip Hart, as the scientist forced to share the awful secret.
Osborne is no Oscar, of course, and there were some awful sore thumbs in the dialogue: “not 100% sure”, “this day and age”, “quite special and unique” …
So despite the undeniable strengths of the production, notably the use of all the characters, the quick and the dead, for the “mysticism” speech and the powerful final scene, I suspect Wilde may be spinning elegantly in his Epstein tomb.
pre-production photograph: Dorian and Sybil

Jim Hutchon reviewed the production for the Chelmsford Weekly News:

John Osborne’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel plods its weary way across 18 years of the eponymous hero’s decline, and there were moments when I felt I had sat through all of them. It is lengthy and leaden-footed, and loses much of Wilde’s incomparable repartee.

That said, Joe Kennedy’s production has much to commend it, despite Osborne's slabs of dialogue with nothing much happening. There are some highly imaginative touches – the rape scene, and the scene where Gray's society friends desert him one by one, and the final flaming suicide are all beautifully handled.
Harry Sabbarton was Gray, not very convincing as a rich, eligible bachelor, and James Christie was the artist looking more like a bank manager, who painted the fateful picture as an act of love. Gray’s decline starts with the rape of his first love – played with real pathos by Leanne Johnson – who then goes and tops herself.
There is an enormous cast for CTW – 16 people on stage at the same time - and all of them well-drilled in creating the atmosphere of Victorian London society. Key acting plaudits must go to a beautifully modulated performance by Tony Ellis (as Gray’s long time friend) who has an unerring ear for the best of Wilde’s lines and a lesson to all in how to deliver them.
The set is nicely minimal but effective and the costumes are accurate and well fitting. But in the final analysis, the dark, brooding atmosphere of the original never surfaces and what should be mounting tension doesn't. 

Mad Dogs and Englishmen at Sandford Mill


When the Industrial Revolution finally came to the farms of Essex, John Joseph Mechi, the Magician of Tiptree, was in its forefront.
In Ann Courtney's intriguing piece, he appears before us, not as a wraith, a spectre, but as a Public Man, ambitious for office and eager to embrace change.
His boxes – fetching hundreds at auction today – were his claim to fame, though he is aware that his name means nothing to us now.
A long coffin chest dominates the stage. It is a horsedrawn trap, a kitchen sink, a clerk's counter, Marat's bath.
Four versatile actors bring all the characters in Mechi's story to vivid life – the Edinburgh Henrysons, the Learned Blacksmith, poor frail Fanny, down-to-earth Rose, farm hand Thomas, whose passionate speech on poverty could find echoes even today, thespian Mr Dickens and the Dickensian Mr Goby in his counting house.
The man himself was played with a complicit twinkle in the eye by Noel Jones, who made us care about his dreams, and share Mechi's determination to transform the face of farming, bringing steam ploughs and irrigation to his Model Farm on the “sodden, blasted heath” at Tiptree. Where we now find Wilkin and Sons, who commissioned this fascinating play. It was first performed there in July; but the industrial museum at Sandford Mill was an inspired venue on its tour of Mechi's agricultural heartland.

Outloud Productions at Brentwood Theatre


Comedy genius Eric [Rising Damp] Chappell has long dreamed of writing a thriller. Dead Reckoning first saw the light in Lincolnshire in 2006, and now it's on the road in Kate Beale's enjoyably tense staging for Leigh-based Outloud Productions.
Surly artist Tony Reed [a powerful presence from Rocky Rising] is haunted by the violent death of his wife; his drinking becomes heavier, his paintings darker and more disturbing. When an insistent stranger appears at his door, keen to talk about penal reform, and makes him a startling proposition, his new wife, Lady Macbeth in a cocktail dress, encourages him to act on his fantasies of justice and vengeance. Todd, fresh-faced, upbeat, with an engaging grin, was given a chilling edge of menace in a stunning performance by George Kemp, and Megan was played with steely coolness by Sally Lawrence, nervously twisting her wedding ring and the fateful bracelet. “I'll walk the dog now – it's growing dark,” she says, and we fear the worst.
Todd's accomplice was John Oakes, too young for the role perhaps, but with an unsettling Pinteresque power that was most successful in his quieter moments.
Why am I telling you all this ?” Megan wonders as she unburdens herself improbably to this mysterious young man she's only just met. It's not realistic, or particularly believable, but then nor is Greek tragedy, and it was good to see an old-fashioned psychological thriller, bodies, twists, clichés and all, in this close-up and personal setting – the first full production in Brentwood's Audrey Longman Studio. And no gratuitous, gritty swearing ! Thank you, Eric.
original 'Tony Reed' created by Anthony Farrell

The Locrian Ensemble at the Civic Theatre


Much is done these days to encourage young people to listen to classical music. But what of their grandparents, who'd like to hear the theme from Horse of the Year Show and Brain of Britain, who remember songs from the Music Hall.
Step forward the Locrian Ensemble, with their ever-popular Mozart by Candlelight. Fronted by the genial Justin Pearson, in wigs and frock coats, they played Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Pachelbel's Canon, A Musical Joke and the Divertimento.
More of a rarity was an arrangement of Mozart's Antiphon written as an entrance exam for the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna.
Two outstanding soloists this time out – Anthony Pike on basset clarinet for the Quintet, and the amazing Stacey Watton playing the opening of Bottesini's demanding concerto for Double Bass.
Mozart would have been surprised, not by the frequent applause, the chatter, the laughter, the chink of glasses from the bar in the second half, but by a woman leading the ensemble – the excellent Rita Manning.
Surprised but delighted, no doubt. As he would have been by the encores – Almaviva's lost aria If You Knew Susanna, and Wolfgang's touching tribute to Leopold, My Old Man …

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

CAODS at the Civic Theatre

It's a while since Barrowman was the Beast, and now this lavish Disney spin-off is available for the more ambitious amateur groups.
In a fitting finale to CAODS' 90th anniversary year, Ray Jeffery's done a class job on this marathon musical, with its tricky transformations, its smoke and mirrors and its spectacular production numbers. Be Our Guest, of course, a culinary cabaret with Lumiere as Emcee [the excellent Ben Martins with a fruity French accent], but also Human Again, again started off by the candlestick. Sarah Barton gave a pleasingly old-fashioned musical comedy performance as the bookworm Belle, battling with the primeval Gaston [Richard Harrison] as well as the Beast – a touching performance from Gareth Barton, finding emotional depths from within the latex – a better Beast than a beau for Belle, perhaps. Another nuanced character from Trevor Lowman as Belle's father, mad inventor and victim of fate; Jimmy Hooper was a larger-than-life New Yorker LeFou. The Silly Girls were effective too, somewhere between Three Little Maids and the Ugly Sisters. The dancing was superb, from the camp cutlery to the athletic Wolves.
Among the castle staff trapped in household objects I enjoyed the Salt and Pepper, the Rug, Kevin Abrey's conceited Cogsworth, Rachael Brown's bubbly Babette, and especially Diana Baker's Teapot, spout steaming, with her boy Chip in the cup, played with huge confidence on opening night by Noah Miller, with Charlie Hughes confined to the cupboard for some other performances.
Ray Jeffery was assisted by Claire Carr, and the Dance Captain was Sue Buxton.
Patrick Tucker's pit musicians were on splendid form, especially noticeable in Belle's big number, with its Andrew Lloyd Webber aspirations, Is This Home?. The sets looked impressive, especially the moving castle, though they were clearly a challenge to change. Maybe costume, or at least proper blacks [with gloves!], for the hard-pressed crew. The costumes were colourful, clever and just cartoony enough …

Photographs by Christopher Yorke-Edwards

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Colchester Mercury Theatre Company in the Mercury Studio

In the intimacy of the studio, hung with white drapes and a polythene banner, Handel'sLascia Ch'io Pianga on the speakers, Todd and Kali prepare.
Prepare to depart for Stockholm. Prepare a birthday meal.
But the springtime interior and the gleaming kitchen are not the whole house. There's an “attic of stars” and, later, a “dark and dingy cellar”.
Bryony Lavery's beautifully crafted one-hour two-hander mixes fantasy and reality; this outwardly successful couple are big fans of all things Swedish – Ikea and Bergman their gods – and lapse into cod Swedish when they make love. I didn't catch a name-check for Strindberg, but his spirit hovers over this haunting Dream Play. We are distanced from the action and the emotion by third person narrative - “He likes her intensity,” Kali turns to tell us. “She likes that he likes her intensity. It's something she's been working on.” Titles for the sixteen short scenes flash up on one of the white drapes.
Clare Humphrey was a powerful, vulnerable Kali. She is gratuitously vituperative about his relationships past – his parents, his ex, even a student friend from years back who may have been called Nicky. 'Retro-jealousy', they've labelled it, and its violent expression, and the “true remorse” which follows, form the destructive cycle of their relationship. Marshall Griffin was an equally strong Todd, obsessively filleting the fish for their supper. Only the ingredients were invisible in an extended, minutely observed mime.
Despite the immaculate stainless steel, the traumatic ménage from which neither can escape hides darker depths. Once we have glimpsed the dungeon, with its echoes of kidnap, child abuse, infanticide, suicide, nothing seems the same. And as a helicopter hovers, and Handel's Let Me Weep is heard once more, we feel we should perhaps see the whole thing over again, to try to spot the signs and the symbols in this unsettling chamber work.
As The Girl in the Cellar reminds us, captives can feel an ambivalent attachment to their captors. This is what psychologists call Stockholm Syndrome...
Janice Dunn's powerful production of this tightly written miniature – stripped back to the walls, observed with “Proustian precision” - is destined not for Stockholm but for Skopje in October, and in return we're seeing Dejan Porjkovski's Macedonian Hamlet in the Mercury's main house – it opens on September 29 for four nights only.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Cramphorn Theatre


World Music worth of the name, Samay create a fusion of Indian, jazz and European traditions, which makes a very palatable blend. Easier on the Western ear than much of the classical raga repertoire, it is melodious, inventive and hypnotic.
The five talented musicians – two from India [originally], two Brits and one from Italy – bgean with an exploratory improvisation, and then we were into a fascinating journey: the intricate rhythms of Railway Dreams, the raga-based Space Calcutta, and the joyous Fronteras, penned by Javier Geras, who played bass in an earlier Samay line-up. Mirror, Mirror which ended the first set, featured a great dialogue between Bhupinder Singh Chaggar's dexterous tabla and the sweet sarod of Soumik Datta.
Three contasting pieces concluded this gig – the last in the amazing series promoted by Gilda Sebastian. Tuesday showcased the sax of Jesse Bannister, very much the heart and soul of this outfit, and the acoustic guitar of the enigmatic Giuliano Modarelli. Not at all Eastern, really, but a funky soundtrack to a music video, set in exotic Leeds, for their début album.
Then Macondo, inspired by Marquez, and Red Sea, with mouth music and clever hand-clapping to the urgent beat.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

For all its flaws, this Sondheim was made for the forest floor of Regent's Park.
I saw a matinée [no, no rain and some sunshine, though the seats were a little soggy], so lost out on the power of the encircling gloom, but the show was nonetheless incredibly powerful, with a faultless cast, from the voice of Dame Judi to the child who narrates the mashed-up nightmare fairytales.
This interpretation [ director Timothy Sheader ] adds considerable emotional clout to the piece [the original London production had Nicholas Parsons narrating !]. The boy is running away from some sort of family row; on the edge of the woods he unpacks random dolls from his rucksack, and acts out with them the stories we see unfold. He is continually involved in the narrative, until the second act, when the sequel is a mere dream, in which he is finally sacrificed to the giant. He is the only “real” character, with his school blazer and bright red lunch box. The others are all pantomime creatures – this is a very British interpretation.
Hard to single out performances, but I did enjoy Beverley Rudd's gormless “Little” Red Riding Hood, and Michael Xavier's sexy Wolf. He was also a preening Prince, and with Simon Thomas as Rapunzel's swain, brought the house down with one of the strongest numbers – Agony. Great to see Gaye Brown still on top form as the Wicked Stepmother, and Billy Boyle as the Mystery Man, wandering into the action and wilfully smoking, heedless of the risk of forest fire.
But the performance of the afternoon was Hannah Waddington's Witch, beautifully acted and sung, both in and out of her grotesque tendrilled costume with its Sher crutches.
The design, by Soutra Gilmour, blends into the trees of the park – the many platform levels echo the shabby seating. Loved Grandma's bed, and her window, and the scrap-metallic Giant. The hen made out of a lawnmower, and the beanstalk made out of umbrellas, were two more deft touches.
For all the foolery and colourful frocks, this is a dark piece, full of recrimination and blame, blood and blindness. The woods are a metaphor, wouldn't you know, for loss of innocence and the scary grown-up flipside of happy-ever-after.
Not often done, and never again quite like this. Video cameras in evidence when I caught it near the end of the run. Any chance of a DVD, I wonder ...


Mid Wales Opera at Colchester Mercury Theatre


I wouldn't be too fussed to see another ...” Her first live opera, it turned out, in a lifetime of theatre-going. Not perhaps the best choice as an introduction to the heady world of lyric theatre. Because though it is melodically rich and full of dramatic incident, it does lack the big tunes and powerful emotions of, say, Rigoletto.

But an ideal choice for Mid Wales Opera pocket tour, of which this was the first date after its Powys opening. Just ten characters, and a streamlined plot, set, apart from the spooky closing scene, in the tavern or the bedchamber.

Amanda Holden's new translation was felicitous and often very funny, though she's not the first to rhyme 'garter' with 'inamorata'. And Nicholas Cleobury's precise, pacy conducting kept things moving. Just ten in the pit, though, so some of the richness lost.

Bridget Kimak's design was brilliantly simple: a huge disc filled most of the stage, with detail added as necessary in long, silent, stylised scene changes. Herne's Oak was impressive, and the whole of the dénouement, with its menacing puppets, gloom and haze was lovely to look at.

Modern dress, with the Merry Wives looking Absolutely Fabulous, Caius [Ted Schmitz] as a Tory candidate, and Falstaff disappointingly drab in khaki for the seduction scene.

Charles Johnston was a dour Falstaff; he sang the demanding role with character and clarity, but with little of the warmth, the “merriment and splendour”, that would make him a loveable rogue. His “Honour” aria was well shaped, and his optimistic “Go On, Sir Jack” and his renewed energy for “Think of that!” were highlights of the production. Physically he was a long way from the fat knight – no Terfel fatsuit for him – with a prosthetic belly visible behind the bursting buttons of his shirt. The object of his affections, Alice Ford, was brilliantly done by Lee Bisset; wonderfully well sung, and great fun, too – shoving Falstaff into the laundry basket, with the help of the equally feisty Meg [Catrin Johnsson]. The cuckold Ford [Wyn Pencarreg], bald then bewigged as Brook, was a vivid presence, and Falstaff's remaining retinue [Simon Wilding's greaser Pistola and Stuart Haycock's grubby Bardolfo] grasped the many comic opportunities in Martin Lloyd-Evans's intelligent direction. In this version, Caius's serving woman is instrumental in bearing messages and moving the plot along, and Gaynor Keeble, brisk in blue, made an excellent Mistress Quickly. Young love is represented by Nannetta [a sparkling Marlene Grimson] and Fenton, Benjamin Segal, who made the most of his amorous arias and duets. The ensemble singing was a model of clarity and crispness, and the “happy hereafter” ending sent us out on a high.

production photograph courtesy David Pugh and MWO

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Monday, September 13, 2010


St John Baptist Danbury


Last weekend saw the second festival to celebrate the work of C Armstrong Gibbs. Centred, appropriately, around the Danbury Church where Gibbs lies buried, and where he made music for many years.
The Festival began with a recital by the Griffin sisters, including some of the charming miniatures for which Gibbs is now best known. Lara gave us the Four Preludes, with a lovely evocation of water in The Trout Pool, and she was joined by Emma on clarinet for Three Pieces, including the pastoral Air, which, as she said, could well be a painting in music of the view over Danbury Common.

Festival Director Robert Atchison, a busy concert violinist and conductor on the international scene, was soloist in the Vivaldi Four Seasons in the Festival Concert, and also in Gibbs' Spring Garland. There was also an impressive performance of his little-known Concertino with Olda Dudnik as soloist.
There was also a successful Children's Concert, conducted by Simon Warne and featuring the talents of young musicians from Sandon School and Danbury Primary Schools, alongside Atchison's renowned London Piano Trio.
In the last of the summer sunshine, we gathered in the church for the final event: Choral Evensong with the St John's Singers and Paul Hagger at the organ. We heard Canticles set by Armstrong Gibbs, and sang his lovely hymn-tune, Lingwood.
photo of rehearsal for Festival Concert courtesy of Robert Atchison

Friday, September 10, 2010


at Shakespeare's Globe


They bake pizzas there now, where once the London beau monde queued to gawp at the Lunaticks in Bedlam.
The 18th century Moorfields premises on London Wall, where Nell Leyshon sets her scene, was the madhouse's second home; the hospital still exists, as the Royal Bethlem in Beckenham, and its archive was the inspiration for much of this exuberant piece of history, the second new play this Globe season, and the first ever by a woman to be staged in this space.
The themes are as familiar in Pizza Express as they were in Gin Lane: lovers parted, brutality, enlightenment, binge drinking and financial collapse. Even voyeuristic exploitation of the unfortunate is still with us.
The busy plot involves a rogue of a doctor, lecherous and cynical, a dangerous painter, an annoying poet, a farm girl, and many other Hogarthian grotesques, inmates and 'care-in-the-community' Bedlamites.
Jessica Swale sets the action on a stage expanded to a circle – more than a hint of the circus, with barred cages at the back. But, as in Shakespeare's day, we rely on the power of words to take us from dawn to darkness, from St Giles to Vauxhall. The groundlings in the yard are subjected to a fist-fight, piss-pots and lewd lechery; the scenes are linked and enlivened by street songs of the period, with a small folk band led by MD Mark Bousie on accordion.
The text is often richly poetical, with flights of madness and strings of synonyms, the longest a litany of euphemisms for “drunk”. There's noise and chaos, of course, with an effective Fellini-esque sequence in the Pleasure Gardens, but some wonderful stillness too, notably the soliloquy by Tom O'Bedlam [James Lailey] who's driven insane when the South Sea Bubble bursts, or the touching reunion of the poet's abandoned mistress [Lorna Stuart] with her child – a poignant puppet.
And a lovely scene at the end, when the progressive Governor [Phil Cheadle] and the Mad Doctor's saintly wife [a commanding performance from Barbara Marten] dawdle together in a halting meeting of souls.
Sam Crane made much of the insufferable poet, with Finty Williams impressive as his long-suffering Gardenia. The Doctor's dolt of a son, who succeeds him at the hospital, was given real depth amongst the laughs by Joseph Timms; Daon Broni's Billy finally rescues his mad May – a charming, vulnerable Rose Leslie. And chief among the grotesques, Ella Smith's “pudding-bag” of a gin-seller, peddling flavoured alcohol for the sweeter tooth.
Nell Leyshon says that the 21st century Bethlem patients wanted the play to be funny, and there were certainly laughs aplenty, even a pantomime “volunteer” from the crowd. But how uncomfortable should we feel, in the shoes of the Moorfields gawpers ? Or shocked by the casual misogyny ?
And is there a moral to this messy, merry tale of madness ? The best get married, confetti dancing in the air as the lunatics and the laity join in the traditional jig. The worst – the awful poet and Jason Baughan's Dr Carew, riddled with “the gentlemen's disease” - end up behind the bars of the new Bedlam: no alcohol, no music, no visitors …
this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Ian Dickens Productions at the Mercury Theatre Colchester


The title says it all, even before we meet Miss Maple [sic] and the aptly named Inspector Pratt.
Peter Gordon's 1993 play is an affectionate pastiche of your classic Country House Murder Mystery, with shoals of red herrings and a Cluedo collection of whodunnit suspects and weapons.
A near-capacity house at the Mercury enjoyed it on all kinds of levels, though the riper innuendo sometimes needed pointing. We were kept guessing to the end, as miscreants were unmasked and motives revealed. The script was amusing, with one or two really strong sequences, and Giles Watling's experienced touch helped a battle-hardened cast make the most of it.
Roland Oliver was crusty Colonel Craddock – loads of bluster and the odd touching moment, with Sandra Dickinson magnificent as his mem-sahib – tremendous presence and a voice from the Betty Marsden school of comedy characterization.
Darren Machin had the moustache, the macassar, the froggie accent and the two-tone shoes, all unmistakeable marks of a cad. I liked the way he used his entire body to express his feelings – most amusing. Elizabeth Williams stepped into the sensible shoes of Margaret Rutherford and Joan Hickson as the interfering spinster sleuth. Michelle Hardwick was the acid-tongued Elizabeth, in an unconvincing wig, Chloe Newsome the dowdy Dorothy, with Erin Geraghty as the doomed mistress of the manor. Christopher Elderwood worked hard as the hapless constable, sidekick to the clueless detective.
The two plum parts went to the priceless Victor Spinetti, as the dotty butler Bunting, squiffy on sherry and lurking suspiciously, and Norman Pace as the Inspector, bungling, accident-prone with a way with words John Prescott might envy. It's a gift of a part, and Pace grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, with admirable comic timing, a nice line in slapstick and a huge range of physical expression.
The “quaint room”, unaccountably referred to as The Lounge, was nicely dressed, though the paintings didn't pass muster even as forgeries …
Some would say that the genre is beyond parody. Others might prefer Stoppard's dazzling scalpel. But Gordon's cosy hommage, the first in his Pratt Trilogy, makes for an undemanding couple of hours' entertainment, guaranteed to keep the punters amused by the acting and bemused by the Byzantine plot.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews