IMAGINE entering the doors of Downton Abbey, seeing the familiar faces of the family and the staff in the great hall, and then sitting down to watch them enacting a Victorian mystery by Wilkie Collins.
That’s the conceit of television screenwriter Nick Warburton’s version of The Moonstone (his first adaptation) chosen by Taunton Thespians to celebrate the company’s return to the Brewhouse.
Like his version of Three Men in a Boat, this is full of theatrical invention, doubling up of characters, ingeniously used simple props and wit. In The Moonstone, a flexible number of cast members even have to hide under a tan blanket to depict The Shivering Sands from time to time.
Mike Linham’s production, performed by a versatile troupe of actors, unfolds a complex and multi-layered story that starts with a blaggardly theft at an Indian shrine and ends with a wedding. In the mean time there are dastardly plots, passionate love, whistling detectives, frantic spinsters, kindly solicitors, phony philanthropists, lovelorn maids and loyal fisherfolk.
If the pace was a bit shaky on the opening night, it will tighten up by the end of the run.
Especially impressive in this ensemble were the ever-charismatic Jane Leakey as cook Mrs Grace, playing Ezra Jennings, maat ward as solicitor Mr Brough (especially while talking to himself as India hand Mr Murthwaite) Dave Levi in six roles, Reece Baker as the bounder Godfrey, Ray Court as steward Betteredge, Anne Dowsey as Gooseberry and Charlotte Newman as Dora/Rachel.
It’s a very clever idea, and a thoroughly entertaining evening. Welcome back Thespians.