When Robert Daws' widowed playwright Alex Dennison declares to Susan Penhaligon's blousy West End producer Bella Lamb that his latest opus is to be a murder mystery thriller, her encouraging response that “They do well,” is tellingly knowing in this debut production from the Bill Kenwright backed Classic Thriller Theatre Company. As with the decade old Agatha Christie Theatre Company, this new venture taps into what appears to be an increasingly un-sated desire to see ingeniously plotted pulp fiction made flesh. If that flesh is made blood within a few minutes of the curtain being raised by way of a bullet or two, so much the better.
Here an obsessed Dennison calls a reunion of the company who last performed together on the West End stage the play is set upon a year previously, on the night of his lover and star turn Monica Welles' apparent suicide. A cast list that includes a shabby director, a past-it roue, an ingenue with ambition and her former beau role-play Dennison's versions of themselves following a series of flashbacks that explain the back-story to his new assistant Sally.
Adapted by Broadway writer David Rogers from a 1982 TV movie penned by Columbo and Murder, She Wrote co-creators Richard Levinson and William Link, Roy Marsden's fluid production plays with cliche before its TV-friendly cast led by Daws, Penhaligon and Monica Welles as the dead leading lady double bluff their way to something infinitely more daring in an intelligently plotted and archly played superior thriller. Part whodunnit, part revenge tragedy, it also lays bare the poverty of the out of work actor in a pleasingly gripping affair.
The Herald, March 24th 2016