The Unexpected Guest, Mere Drama Society at the Lecture Hall

promptmereunexpected guest painting0002AGATHA Christie’s 1958 play The Un­ex­pected Guest is typically densely plotted and full of red herrings, but it hasn’t stood the test of time as well as some of her other works.

It depends, like all murder mysteries, on perfect timing, and that is impossible to achieve if principal members of the cast are relying more on the prompt than learning their lines.

That said, Di Potter’s production of the play for Mere Drama built up the tension and included some notable performances, two of them from the youngest members of the group.

Richard Warwick is an absolute blighter, a selfish arrogant drunk who has made life hell for his family and those around him. So there are no tears shed when he’s found dead in his chair one foggy night.

His wife Laura is holding the smoking gun when Michael Starkwedder blunders in through the French windows, having ditched his car in the fog. But surprisingly, instead of contacting the police, he takes her under his wing and plots an elaborate hoax to get her off – out of prison and away from the hangman’s noose (it was only three years earlier that Ruth Ellis was hanged.)

The house near the Bristol Channel in Wales is also inhabited by Richard’s mother, his half-witted half brother Jan, his nurse/attendant/valet Angell and a housekeeper-companion, Benny … and all of them have reasons to want Richard dead.  There is also a parliamentary candidate who is supposed to be in love with Mrs Warwick jnr, a wrongfully dismissed gardener, and a host of neighbours, both in Wales and Norfolk, whose cats and dogs the former big-game hunter has taken delight in shooting. Then there was an accident in which a young child was killed, and drunk, speeding driver Richard got off scot free.

When the bright young police inspector (an incisive performance by Ed Ford) arrives with his poetry loving sergeant (Allan Glide) they must sift through the mass of “evidence” to find the perpetrator.

With everyone in the house trying to cover up for the person they think fired the gun, that’s no easy task, and both the denouement and Benny’s set up of Jan are clever, as always with Christie.

Duncan Bennett gives a terrific performance as the sad half brother Jan, and both Juliet Booth and June Hewett convincingly portray the two Mrs Warwicks. Chris Wood creates an oleaginous Angell the nurse, a nasty piece of blackmailing work.

Theatre is supposed to be about suspension of disbelief, and in this PC world we are encouraged to be colour and age blind, but there were some very difficult leaps of faith to be made with this casting, not made easier by the number of prompts.

I look forward to seeing both Ed Ford and Duncan Bennett in future productions – and I hope someone can find a play that makes better use of their undoubted talents.


Pictured is another of Eric Kincaid’s wonderful Mere Drama posters

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