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The Mill at Sonning - The Unexpected Guest

7th June to 28th July 2018

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Blessed puts his mark on Christie mystery

The Unexpected Guest, at The Mill at Sonning, until July 28

A man runs his car into a ditch on a dark, misty evening in a remote part of South Wales and walks over to an isolated house for help. Inside he finds a dead man slumped in a wheelchair and a woman standing near him holding a gun in her right hand. She confesses to having shot the man, her husband, and he offers to help her. Just the starting point for one of Agatha Christie's intriguing murder mysteries.

Directed by Brian Blessed, the play started in fairly conventional manner, with Sean Browne as the man playing it as a brisk, fairly efficient fellow and Kate Tydman as Laura giving an edgy, nervous performance as one in her predicament would do.

As the first scene progresses we eventually meet Rosalind Blessed as Miss Bennett, who is quite loud and extrovert, Luke Barton as the dead man's brother Jan, Diane Keen as his mother Mrs Warwick and towards the end of this scene – a director's touch no doubt – George Telfer giving a menacing performance as he enters as Angell, stony-faced and silent, to a loud drum beat heralding the end of the scene.

In Scene Two, we meet the police inspector, Noel White playing it straight and efficiently, and his sidekick Alexander Neal as the sergeant who plays it for comic touches.

Last to arrive on set is Patrick Myles, who gives a studied performance as the rather brittle and selfish Julian, a man who has been having an affair with Laura. At the end of this scene Laura starts to sing the popular song of her name and a recording by Frank Sinatra finishes it off for her as the lights dim.

To open Act Two, we hear the unmistakable voice of Brian Blessed as a radio announcer presenting a Paul Temple play; a nice touch this and a good way for the director to put his personal mark on the performance. Mind you I'm surprised that he didn't go the whole Alfred Hitchcock hog and appear briefly outside the French windows as a gardener, holding a rake, but then I mustn't put ideas into his head.

There were some really striking individual performances, not least by Luke Barton who portrayed a man with learning difficulties sympathetically and George Telfer as Angell, who got a round of spontaneous applause for the scene in which he attempts to blackmail Julian.

This was a lively and highly-entertaining production directed with flair by that master performance artist Brian Blessed, who kept up the original touches right to the very end, as he had the police inspector Noel White blowing his whistle furiously during the curtain call.


There are reviews from The Reviews Hub ("some definite stand-out performances here... pinpoint comedic timing" - 4 stars); The Stage ("Brian Blessed directs a good looking but poorly paced murder mystery that's well past its prime" - 2 stars); the Maidenhead Advertiser ("the play is perfect for the cosy amphitheatre of the Mill... perfectly cast with all of the characters fully realised... highly recommended")