On a night not unlike any other night, Brandon and Granillo commit murder. They kill a fellow classmate in college for the simple sport of it. What do you do to top a murder? Why, you stuff the boy’s body into a chest in the middle of the room and you invite friends over for a dinner served off that very chest. And for good measure you invite the boy’s father too, One of the friends invited over is Rupert, slightly older and more sophisticated.And it is upon Rupert that the truth behind the secret of the chest in the middle of the room begins to dawn.
Philip Arditti – Sabot
Bertie Carvel - Rupert Cadell
Emma Dewhurst - Mrs Debenham
Michael Elwyn - Sir Johnstone Kentley
Henry Lloyd-Hughes - Kenneth Raglan
Blake Ritson - Wyndham Brandon
Alex Waldmann - Charles Granillo
Phoebe Waller-Bridge - Leila Arden
Mark Thompson – Design
Rick Fisher – Lighting
John Leonard – Sound
Finally, the Almeida produce something worth seeing. It hasn’t formally opened yet, and I suspect that the critics will be extremely divided in their opinions, possibly seeing this play as a bit of a museum piece. But its extremely well written, directed with panache and, with a few caveats, well acted.
It’s interesting that the director made the decision to set the play in its original period (the 1920’s) which comes as a bit of a shock to anyone who only knows the piece through the Hitchcock film. I must admit that I haven’t seen the film, but still somehow expected it to be set in the 40s. So it was a pleasant surprise to get an “authentic” production (even though I spent the first 10 minutes or so feeling that I had wandered into an Agatha Christie novel), and even more surprising that this is set “in the round”. This decision works well, because it’s quite a claustrophobic piece (particularly for the poor sod in the chest!) and being able to see the audience on the other side of the auditorium enhances this feeling of restriction and airlessness. The chest around which all the action is centred is therefore, quite literally, in the centre of the action and the centre of attention as it commands the middle of the octagonal stage. You therefore can’t actually take your eyes completely off it and it consequently becomes a brooding, menacing presence throughout the entire play, almost taking on a character of its own. Clever, clever! One thing I didn’t like about the production, however, was the final coup de theatre, which struck me as completely unnecessary and somewhat “theatrical” (in the worst sense of the word) - rather as if the director was trying to end the play “with a bang” when really such a well-written piece doesn’t need it.
Acting was practically perfect, apart from one or two slight quibbles. Alex Waldmann was a very milquetoast Granillo, and I noticed that Michael Elwyn played the role of Sir Kentley almost as two people, becoming softer round the edges as the action progressed and more “cuddly” almost, perhaps in a misguided attempt by the director to engender sympathy for the character. Bertie Carvel, however, walks away with the entire evening with his portrayal of Rupert Caddel as a lisping, mincing aesthete with a razor-sharp mind, although it has to be said that his projection was, at times, extremely poor and many of his lines simply didn’t reach us in the back row. This, however, may have been the fault of the production being in the round, which always causes problems as, try as you might to avoid it, the actors always end up with their backs to at least part of the audience. Credit to for Emma Dewhurst for making a good part out of a character who has less than a dozen lines throughout the entire play. I also enjoyed Henry Lloyd-Hughes’ portrayal of Kenneth Raglan for all the wrong reasons – not only did he look and sound exactly like he had stepped off the page of Agatha Christie, but there’s something indefinably sexy about a moustached cad in a well-cut dinner jacket….
My enjoyment of the play was spoiled somewhat by some kind of technical problem with the sound system for the first 15 minutes but thankfully this resolved itself just as I was starting to get irritated by it. I would also like to thank the stupid cow who shoved past me en route to the theatre causing me to drop a brand new library book into a muddy puddle. Merry Christmas, you daft bitch. I hope your bus broke down at the next stop.
What the critics thought: