There’s no point pretending the Jolly Lion likes Agatha Christie. Like TV adaptations, they are a major source of irritant that I would prefer stayed in the privacy of people’s home for the most part. But, there are stories that have transferred to the stage quite nicely, and Cards on the Table is a passable yarn, dramatised by Leslie Darbon and directed by Alec Stokes for the TOADS Theatre Company. The production runs from 10 to 22 September 2012 and forms one of the many attractions in Torquay’s Agatha Christie season.
The play opens with a gathering in the home of Mr Shiatana, played by Roy Winbow, an exotic host with some odd collections. He collects killers, much to the amusement of crime writer and guest Mrs Oliver, played by Jill Pettigrew, who steps in as amateur sleuth for the evening, in a story that benefits from Poirot being cut.
The staging of this opening scene caused some trouble, with the main action being compressed into the back third of the stage. The card game, murder and initial interviews are the crucial scene setting for the story, yet they take place a good distance away from the audience. The cast have to work harder to draw us in, but the empty space is screaming to be filled. By building such an early barrier within the set, very few of the actors were prepared to come down to speak to us.
That isn’t to say that the characters weren’t there, the four suspects were all equally suspicious and villainous whilst the investigators had theories and suspicions to share which allowed the plot to chug along merrily. Jon Manley appears comfortable in the role of Superintendent Battle, who conducts a firm investigation which is never quite as much fun as his role as Inspector Pratt in the previous season’s spoof offering Murdered to Death.
A couple of faces reappeared in similar roles to the earlier spoof, with Suzie Powell here playing Mrs Lorrimer and Nigel Stevenson as Dr Roberts. Not quite the same characters as the previous year, but caught in a similar enough scenario that it seems odd at first that they’re not playing it for laughs.
The most fun in this production came from the cameo roles, with Sam Birch and Lisa Fletcher, both providing light relief in scenes with Battle, as Sergeant O’Connor and Miss Burgess respectively. But it was Sarah Davies who stole the show in the second act as Doris, Mrs Lorrimer’s maid. A brief appearance, but cheekily milked for every laugh she could get, with an audience who welcomed every opportunity, you wonder if anyone was concentrating on what was actually happening in those scenes.
Meanwhile, around the same time in the play, I became aware of the wonderful look the production had, with a glorious balance of turquoise and burgundy. In a few moments in Mrs Lorrimer’s drawing room, the cushions, the pictures on the wall and the items on the desk worked in tandem with the costumes of Lorrimer and Battle to produce a visual feast of 1930s magic. It was striking and beautifully thought out.
A nice cosy show for an autumn night, with plenty for the Agatha fans, and mercifully short for those of us less taken with her.
Last review from the Little Theatre – Pardon Me, Prime Minister
For more information visit: www.toadslittletheatre.co.uk