‘The Unexpected Guest’ was written 60 years ago, by the queen of the whodunit thrillers, Agatha Christie. By today’s standard, the writing was a little repetitious, and there were a few sexist or politically incorrect comments that brought gasps and chuckles from the audience.
Not long after the London Premiere, the Queen went to see the play, but on the night, the actor playing Jan Warwick took ill and had to be replaced by his understudy at the interval.
This production was presented by the Old Mill Theatre Company, at the Old Mill Theatre, on the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road, South Perth.
The three week run ended on Saturday 10th March. The curtain of this 140-minute show went up at 7.30.
Scene: The action of the play takes place in wealthy businessman, Richard Warwick’s study in South Wales, near the Bristol Channel. It is a night in November 1960, just before midnight.
The set: The sitting room walls of this affluent residence are painted cream. In a rear corner are patio doors that lead out to a small path, and a wall covered in ivy.
The several pieces of matching furniture were in well styled oak. Centre stage was a three seater settee, a matching armchair and a Camden pouffe. There were some very good props, including a phone, guns, a wheelchair and African trophies.
The set was built and painted by Phil Barnett, Ross Bertinshaw, Sarah Christiner, Rex Gray, Kit Leake, Justin Freind and Sheila Wileman.
The stage manager was Ross Bertinshaw. The excellent mood lighting design was by John Woolrych. Sarah Christiner’s sound effects design was crisp. Both sound and lighting were smoothly controlled by the technical operator, Justin Freind.
A fog horn sounds, followed by a car crunching into a ditch. Seeking help, the driver, Michael Starkwedder (Wayne Cant – good stage skills) knocks on the patio doors, and finding them unlocked walks into the sitting room. He puts on the room lights, only to find an elderly man in a wheelchair – shot dead. This is Richard Warwick (Isaac Iqbal – congratulations, he did not move a muscle in the whole 60-minute first Act) the owner of the house.
In the far corner of the room is a woman in shock, this is Richard’s wife Laura (Jackie Oates) holding a gun. Laura lets slip that her husband was a miserable cruel man. Thinking that she may have killed her husband, the unexpected guest decides to help her form an alibi before contacting the police.
The stern housekeeper Miss Bennett (Sian Burgess), who has been with the family for decades enters the room, followed by Laura’s young son Jan (Charlie Young). Jan has a brain problem, and so is very excitable, although yet quite intelligent and knows precisely what is happening in the house.
Richard’s elderly mother, Mrs Warwick (Davilia O’Connor) comes down from her room to see what the commotion is. She is closely followed by Richard’s personal male nurse, Angell (Jeremy Smith). Everyone seems to have an alibi.
The police are called. Sergeant Cadwallader (Praveen Hooda) and Inspector Thomas (Kit Leake) arrive, and discover that Laura is having an affair with a local politician, Julian Farrar (Ryan Perrin).
But who did kill Richard?
Costumier Jenny Prosser selected excellent clothes, especially for the young son, Jan. The smarmy nurse’s pinstriped trousers and blazer were perfect. However, the policeman’s uniform looked American, with a silver badge (?) sewn on the chest, and brass buttons.
Director Joan Scafe is a much respected member of the theatre world, but for this show she was thrown into the deep end at the last minute. With every show being a sell-out, I was lucky to catch the last performance.
The acting was variable, but the women were all excellent. Alas, two actors tried to present a Welsh accent – a remarkably difficult accent to perform – if it doesn’t work, then best just to drop it, do not even try. Sadly, even at the end of the season, one actor was still struggling with most of his lines, which slowed the flow of the play.
Most of the audience enjoyed the show and left happy. I was a little disappointed.