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Compton Players - The Unexpected Guest

14th to 17th October 2009.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Audience kept guessing at murder most devious

Compton Players: The Unexpected Guest, at The Coronation Hall, Compton, from Wednesday, October 14 to Saturday, October 17

When Agatha Christie's new play opened in the West End in 1958, it was regarded by many as a second Mousetrap. Although it didn't fulfil this prophecy, it is nevertheless full of the devious twists for which the author is rightly famous.

It was, therefore, a good choice by the Compton Players and producer Helen Saxton made the most of the opening, with eerie music playing as the curtains drew back to reveal a darkened stage. Torchlight showed glimpses of a figure slumped in a chair and a woman standing statue-still. The torch was held by Michael Starkwedder (where did Agatha get these names?) whose car had broken down and who found himself helping the woman, Laura Warwick, to dispose of the body of husband, Richard.

Who murdered him? The nurse? The troubled teenager? The valet? His mother? The wife's lover?

In true Christie style, the audience decided on each in turn in a play which never lacked pace. Poirot and Miss Marple obviously being on holiday, the task of finding the killer devolved on Inspector Thomas (Rob Bell carrying out very realistic on-stage phone calls) and Nick Roberts, in a nicely-judged performance as his poetically-minded sergeant.

The Compton Players have a good reputation and this production will do nothing to harm it, with excellent acting, especially from Peter Watt, completely natural in the role of the unexpected guest Michael S.

Tracey Pearce looked right and kept the pace up with slick delivery of lines in the important role of Laura. However, for me, her performance was too understated and I expected more dramatic reactions from her to the traumatic events. The unexpected caller, hubby dead in a chair and the police calling - this is no time to be reserved.

Good performances came from Mary Warrington as the bustling Benny, Paul Shave as a creepy valet and a wonderfully stiff upper-lipped Liz Saxton as Richard's mother. Andrew Alexander made a successful debut as the troubled Jan and Mark Bailey gave a good impression of Boris Johnson as Laura's lover.

Eric Saxton's set was superb, extending well to the offstage glimpses through doorways and giving a most professional setting to this latest Compton Players' production.