Mortimer Dramatic Society - Night Must Fall
26th to 27th May and 2nd to 3rd June 2017
Review from Newbury Theatre.
Starting off as a whodunit, it pretty soon becomes clear who did. Emlyn Williams’ Night Must Fall, set in the 1930s, then morphs into a psychological thriller.
After a short prologue from the Lord Chief Justice (Lawrence Picking) denying the unnamed murderer’s appeal against murdering two people, the scene is set in the isolated house of the fierce and grumpy hypochondriac Mrs Bramson (Caroline Martin), occasionally attended by Nurse Libby (Suzan van Rhoon). Her niece Olivia (Paula Stenson), reserved and plain, lives with her and is treated as a servant by Mrs B. Hoping to marry her is the boring Hubert (Iain Vernon Wilson), but Olivia can’t bring herself to agree. Mrs Terence the old cook (Megan Bush) is generally stroppy, and Dora the maid (Tamsin Puddephatt) announces she’s pregnant.
Mrs B demands to see the father of Dora’s baby, and into this dysfunctional household comes Dan (Phil Collins) who works at a local hotel. Charismatic and charming, Dan wins over Mrs B (but not Olivia, who sees through him) and insinuates himself into the household.
There were strong performances from the main characters Phil Collins, Caroline Martin and Paula Stenson, as well as Tamsin Puddephatt, convincing as the maid. Phil Collins was believable as Jack-the-lad and his changes of mood showed his psychopathic and vulnerable sides. Caroline Martin had the clear authority to control her underlings, managing to be thoroughly unlikeable. But she needed to speak louder and more slowly at times. Paula Stenson had a difficult role as Olivia’s love-hate relationship with Dan developed despite her better judgement and her natural reticence.
But… two problems with this production. First: prompts; lots of them which slowed down the pace, and the actors needed to be quicker picking up on cues. Second: Mari Fleming’s direction. The main actors had all the skills needed, but the production never really gelled. Dan’s mood changes needed to be more clear-cut, and his scared dithering when talking to the rather dim Inspector Belsize (Tom Shorrock) seemed to be out of character. Olivia’s changing feelings towards Dan could have been brought out more clearly – it wasn’t obvious why she would have saved him by claiming the hat box.
The set and costumes, as usual at Mortimer, were impressive and appropriate to the era. Olivia’s rather dowdy dresses seemed right for her character!
An interesting play with some good acting, but also some flaws.