Watermill - Sleuth
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Watermill - Sleuth

14th February to 23rd March 2013.

Review from Newbury Theatre.

In 1970, computer games were the stuff of science fiction; couples and families could keep themselves entertained with chess, draughts, Monopoly, Cluedo…

Andrew Wyke is a games player par excellence and his Wiltshire manor house is filled with games, commonplace and obscure. What he lacks is someone to play them with, as his wife isn’t interested. A successful author of 1930s crime fiction, Andrew has just finished his latest novel. Invited by Andrew, Milo Tindle arrives for a chat. Unlike Andrew, Milo isn’t rich. He’s having an affair with Andrew’s high-maintenance wife (we never see her), and is struggling to make ends meet. What follows is a complex cat and mouse game between the two, devised by Andrew to humiliate Milo and involving a jewel robbery.

There are so many twists in Anthony Shaffer’s intriguing plot that to say any more would be a spoiler. Sleuth is a comedy and a psychological thriller, and its success depends on the performances of the two main actors, Richard Attlee (Andrew) and Matthew Spencer (Milo). Attlee’s Andrew is smugly superior, initially dominating Milo with his manic enthusiasm. Spencer’s Milo is unconfident, cowed, with “all the killer instinct of a 20-year-old poodle” – but the worm can turn… These were two beautifully matched characterisations, imbuing the production with pace and energy.

Simon Kenny’s set: wow! A hugely impressive panelled room, beautifully designed and furnished, full of the clutter of Andrew’s games. From the imposing staircase, the banister (although a bit wobbly) continued along the Watermill’s balcony, drawing us into the action.

Director Jessica Swale’s production was highly enjoyable. The plot is implausible at times, but the whole thing was a great blend of comedy and suspense, with excellent acting from the two principals.

PAUL SHAVE

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Masterpiece of surprises

Whodunwhat in Shaffer's Sleuth at The Watermill?

Sleuth, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until March 23

The Watermill stage was so jam-packed it looked like a hidden object puzzle, so that even before Anthony Shaffer's feast of crime, psychological games and hilarity began, the fascinating set provided entertainment. Including a slot machine holding a creepy laughing Jack Tar doll, it formed the ideal background for an evening of surprises.

Much must be kept secret in order not to spoil those surprises, but let's begin with the two main characters in a play which has a dig at authors of the classic whodunit. We meet Andrew Dyke (Richard Attlee), a successful member of the genre, who has finally worked out the ending to The Body on the Tennis Court, and proudly declaims it to the audience.

He is a man steeped in puzzles, riddles and games and when he discovers that his wife Marguerite, a woman who "couldn't have got Johann Strauss to waltz," is cuckolding him with Milo Tindle (Matthew Spencer) - "it's like a Bengali tiger bedding with Bambi," Andrew advises Milo - he invites the young man to the house. Ostensibly this is to discover whether he can support the extravagant Marguerite, who is away on holiday. In reality, he has other plans which may not be what you expect.

The dialogue between these two as Dyke persuades Tindle to dress as a clown to steal his wife's jewellery is fast-moving and extremely funny. There is, however, an undercurrent that all is not quite as it seems, an impression underlined by snatches of music and eerie laughter from the strange doll.

Police are involved in the second act and the humour takes a darker turn as Dyke is called upon to account for Tindle's disappearance. As Anthony Shaffer said when speaking of his famous play: "I think the reason for its survival is that the nature of the device or trick is such that if you know it the play becomes even crueller."

Sleuth has been described as 'the greatest thriller ever' and in this production, directed by Jessica Swale, Attlee and Spencer conduct the audience superbly through its intricate maze of misleading mindgames, emotions and crime. A masterpiece of surprises, humour and tension - don't miss it.

CAROLINE FRANKLIN

Review from the British Theatre Guide.

Anthony Shaffer’s 1970’s sinister thriller Sleuth is refreshingly revived in the Watermill’s impressive production skilfully directed by Jessica Swale, who is making her directorial debut at the Watermill.

The play is set in the country house of Richard Wyke, exquisitely realised by designer Simon Kenny with a sweeping staircase, panelled walls that are full of surprises and the intricate trappings of this crime writer’s obsession with game-playing, including a disturbing seaside arcade laughing sailor in a glass case. Indeed you get the impression that the audience is about to participate in a real-life version of the game Cluedo.

Shaffer’s play treads a fine line between comedy and thriller. He teases the audience like a fine chess master playing mind games as the plot twists and turns in a maelstrom of deception and intrigue.

Wyke lures Milo Tindle to his home, where we discover that he is going to marry Wyke's soon-to-be divorced wife Marguerite. Milo is persuaded to steal her jewellery as part of an insurance scam and so the plot thickens with some humiliating and disastrous results.

Richard Attlee is simply outstanding as the self-important pompous Wyke who changes accent with alacrity as he acts out the characters he creates in his menacing games with Milo.

He is becoming a stalwart at the Watermill having previously appeared in Love on the Tracks and Moonlight and Magnolias but is, of course, better known as Kenton in Radio 4’s The Archers.

As his adversary, Matthew Spencer is splendid as the shy subdued and humiliated Milo who eventually turns the tables on Wyke to seek his revenge.

There is a powerful chemistry between these two highly talented actors that fizzes and sparks as they toy with each other as they play out their bizarre games.

They keep the audience guessing as to what is truth and what is bluff or indeed double bluff.

This is compounded by the arrival of the bumbling Inspector Doppler (Stewart Cheem) who seems to know too much about the events that have happened as he tries to unravel the dire incidents with some farcical results.

Isobel Waller-Bridge’s atmospheric music and sound design together with Nick Richings’s atmospheric lighting perfectly created the mysterious ambience.

This is a fast paced, high-energy production that is thoroughly enjoyable and is undoubtedly a must-see show.

ROBIN STRAPP

There's are reviews from The Good Review ("a production that remains gripping throughout... the energy never flags" - 4 stars), The Stage ("director Jessica Swale and designer Simon Kenny work the production excellently and imaginatively"), WhatsOnStage ("Attlee and Spencer ignite the stage, sparking off each other as the advantage see-saws between them, and the menace and tension are unsettlingly real" - 4 stars, The Public Reviews ("production does take a while to get going... when the action does get going there is no stopping it... great fun" - 3.5 stars) and Marlborough People ("thoroughly enjoyable romp through the world of crime fiction... high energy performances from a great cast make this a guaranteed fun night out").