Peter Whalley’s Dead of Night (not to be confused with the classic black and white movie of the same name) is a taut small-cast thriller which probably deserves to be better known.
As it opens Jack Lilley is in celebratory mood after being acquitted of manslaughter, having killed an intruder who broke into his home. As he recounts the details of the trial to his partner Maggie and their neighbours Dennis and Lynne, a debate on the ethics of killing in self-defence moves in other, more disturbing directions; unexpected relationships are revealed among the characters and various accounts given of the events of the fatal night – but which is true?
I won’t give away the details for the sake of those who may see this production while they have the chance, but suffice to say there are twists and the tension and claustrophobia are maintained to the end.
Halse has a habit of finding actors out of nowhere and this season’s debutant is David Wood as Jack. Physically ideal to play villainous roles, and with distinct overtones of Bob Hoskins, he gives an excellent account of Jack’s bravado, menace and near-psychopathic self-involvement. But it was undermined by an unfamiliarity with his (admittedly numerous) lines.
This was, unfortunately, the main flaw on the opening night. Heather Davis, an outstanding Maggie, is exempt, but Rod Lipscombe as Dennis and Sylvia Haselock as Lynne both suffered from the malaise, a great shame as both give excellent characterisations otherwise. Mr Lipscombe’s quiet dignity as the softly-spoken, highly principled Dennis is particularly striking – but at times the prompt seemed like a fifth character.
Nerves probably had more to do with it than unpreparedness, and I’m confident that the lines will improve in the remaining performances, while keeping up standards in all others.
The production is well-designed, making best use of the available space by using the walls of the hall to dispense with the need for a box set. And the welcome was as warm and hospitable as I associate with this group.