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The Mill at Sonning - Dead Simple

19th January to 11th March 2017.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Edge-of-the-seat stuff

The Mill's tense thriller inspired by Edgar Allan Poe

Dead Simple, at The Mill at Sonning, until Saturday, March 11

What is your worst ever nightmare? Terminal illness, drowning, giant spiders running riot in the bathroom, perhaps. Or maybe none of the above? How high on the list would being buried alive rate? Very high for most of us, I suspect, and this theme was the starting point for author Peter James after he read Edgar Allan Poe's The Premature Burial and eventually came up with this snappy thriller.

The action starts with Michael, played by Lewis Collier, and his friend and partner Mark – a lively performance by Matt Milburn – talking about his forthcoming wedding to the beautiful Ashley, given a split personality reading by Louise Stewart.

The stag party is about to commence and Michael's pals, if you can call them that, plan to bury him in the woods, in a coffin, with only a torch, walkie talkie radio and an inserted breathing tube for company.

They do so, planning to leave him to suffer for just under an hour but then something goes terribly wrong. The wedding pranksters' car crashes, killing all the occupants, and that's as much of the plot as I can reveal without spoiling it for future audiences.

James's story, with Keith Myers' atmospheric direction and fine use of sound and lighting effects, keeps the tension tightly in focus and the little gasps of shock-horror, all through, from some members of the audience, indicate they succeed in keeping everyone on the edge of their seats.

The five-location composite set, designed by Alex Marker, is also worthy of praise for ingenuity. A large cast all did very well in their contributions towards the final result, with strong, well-observed performances from Louise Stewart as Ashley, Martin Stanbridge as Bradley, her uncle and Vincent Jerome and Gwynfor Jones as the two police detectives.

Specifically for productions of this kind, sound and lighting tend to be very important towards the success of the action so a special bouquet is awarded to soundman Liam Hawes and lighting designer Matthew Bliss.