It was a return to the Shaftesbury Theatre last night for the Jolly Lion as the Dawlish Repertory Comedy staged the Seymour Matthews thriller, ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ this week. Running from 2 to 7 April 2012, the production was directed by Geoffrey Wildey with plenty of twists and turns.
The play opens with Jennifer and Brian arriving at an Italian villa at the invitation of the mysterious Konakis. Jennifer is quick to highlight her husband’s shortcomings, and when she leaves the room he hides a gun in a drawer before fixing a stiff drink. He’s a man with a job to do, his wife ignorant to his motives.
When a second couple, David and Corinne, arrive at the villa, also at the invitation of Konakis, it becomes apparent that an innocent double booking is something far more sinister. The body count starts to build, and then it becomes clear that all is not as it seems as the characters reveal a shared purpose and some troubled histories. As each is picked off one by one, can they confess how they’ve crossed the unseen host before everybody dies?
This is exactly the kind of theatre the Jolly Lion loves as it messes with both your idea of what a thriller should be and what your idea of theatre should be. It naughtily includes a moment where you think one of the actors has missed their entrance, and as the audience starts to snigger, suddenly the reality of the situation hits home. Marvellous.
The cast were in full flow by the end of the run, with John Carne endlessly watchable as Franco, whose over the top performance brought humour to the horrors of events in the villa – pitching it perfectly for the role he had to play. Tracey Davies plays Pamela, a nice character who seems overwhelmed by the goings on around her, but as with any thriller, this hides a dark secret of her own.
Kerry White-Cheshire and Will Clark worked well to set the scene as Jennifer and Brian. They created a sinister atmosphere, awkward with each other and how events would unfold. Once the audience sees their true motivation, both get to perform some interesting material, and Clark presents the most natural character of the evening.
When Peter Hollands and Ruth Hawkins turn up as David and Corinne, they bring light relief as the bickering couple, with Hawkins getting a laugh with almost every line delivered. Hollands benefits from the twist in the tale, maintaining the humour as events conspire to reveal to him that whatever happens he will be next to die – until just the right moment, when the seriousness of the situation takes hold and a change of tone leads to a wonderful confrontation which offered nothing to laugh about.
I can’t help but notice that each time I’ve been to the Shaftesbury Theatre I’ve seen a play with no real knowledge of what it will be about. Every time the show has been great fun, well produced, and play readers for other societies could do a lot worse than coming to see what happens at Dawlish for inspiration in choosing plays for their future seasons.
Last review from the Shaftesbury Theatre: Ladies Who Lunch
For more information visit: www.dawlishrep.com
And on the subject of missed entrances: As You Like It – The Night I Forgot To Go On…
If you’ve seen this production either in Dawlish or elsewhere, please feel free to add your own comments below, although I would ask that you don’t give the game away on the big twist.