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Drug Abuse? Prescription for Murder

4 April 2017

Prescription for Murder

by Norman Robbins

Staines Players, Stanwell Village Hall

29th March to 1st April

Review by Eleanor Lewis

My mum was the whodunit expert in our house, her library haul was easily identifiable by the titles: Death Comes Calling, The Body in the Library, Murder for Two etc.   I haven’t really inherited her skill.  I usually haven’t got a clue except in Agatha Christies where the killer is always the person who couldn’t possibly have done it, and the easier ‘guilt by casting’ in a lot of TV crime i.e.  if you spot a celebrity-status actor in what appears to be a fairly minor role then they usually turn out to be the killer (if they’re not, their agent has lost interest).  So I approached Staines’ Players production of Prescription for Murder quite happily assuming I would enjoy it without having the faintest idea who had done what to whom.

The play’s action takes place in the living room of Doctor and Mrs Forth (Amanda Stuart and Des Cann).   Mrs Forth is continually ill with a series of unidentifiable afflictions and Dr Forth seems to have a slightly shady, possibly suspicious past.   A series of other characters arrive and depart the living room planting clues and generally misleading the audience: the reliable and supportive friend Dorothy Livingstone (Wendy Cann); the couple married slightly too long, The Haighs (Val Clayton and Roger Simmons); the lovely, single and hot-for-the-doc Julia Moore (Janine Thomas –Rietti) and the strange Eric Dawson (Dallas Stuart) claiming a connection to Dr Forth’s former fiancée.   All of these roles were skilfully played.  Amanda Stuart as the doctor’s wife was convincing as a woman gradually weakening from a series of small, vague illnesses but keeping her chin up, and Wendy Cann as her friend Dorothy, again, wholly believable and real.

Perhaps most endearing in this production were the Haighs, Mary and her hen-pecked but not quite defeated husband Allan.   These performances were both highly entertaining and subtle.   Roger Simmons as Allan, drew the audience right into his corner where they were rooting for every one of his small victories over his overbearing wife.   Val Clayton as Mary, who shut poor Allan up at every available opportunity still managed to bring out Mary’s softer, kinder self.   These roles are often just played for laughs, but Allan and Mary in this production were also authentic, recognisable people, a tribute to Lynne Percival’s mature direction and Clayton and Simmons’ acting skills.

Lighting was straightforward, the set was well designed so that the action was not limited to one part of the stage, and I do appreciate a good prop: sherry in a sherry glass is only a detail but there’s a lot in the detail.   (If you’re doing Fiddler on the Roof, best not to have the wedding guests toasting each other with 1970s side-handled pub pint glasses).   The melodramatic scene change music added a nice eerie element to proceedings too.

Credit must go to all the actors involved in this play as there were screeds and screeds of lines to be learnt and a couple of dropped lines (efficiently dealt with and scarcely noticeable) were understandable given the amount of setting-up and plot-related information and misinformation that had to be conveyed to the audience in paragraphs of dialogue.   Author Norman Robbins was clearly a multi-talented writer and actor, he wrote characters well and evidently understood people, but whodunit plotting is a specific talent not necessarily given to otherwise successful writers and I’m not convinced he quite pulled it off … as I did in fact work out who the killer was.   Staines Players, however, did an excellent job with what they had.   This was a well-directed and efficiently executed production which I enjoyed very much.  It’s also worth noting that the Friday audience were totally engaged throughout and gasping in all the right places: Staines is clearly a friendly and supportive society.   The programme (very decent programme for a freebie) stated that their autumn production will be Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings and I think they will thrive on some rather stronger material.

Eleanor Lewis

March 2017

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From → Drama, Reviews

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