Compton Players - Evil Will Come
18th to 20th November 2021
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Homage to Agatha Christie
Compton Players return to stage with courtroom thriller
It has been a long period of enforced inactivity for Compton Players, along with amateur and professional theatres everywhere. Lockdowns and social distancing meant members couldn’t even meet up and congregate, never mind tread the boards. Director Helen Saxton expresses her pleasure at being back in the programme notes to this, their first production in front of a live audience in two years.
Mind you, I’m not suggesting anyone ever performed plays in front of a dead audience, but there were such things as Zoom presentations and Compton Players did have an online show called The Covid Inspector. This though, was their first at their usual venue, Compton Village Hall, and the play was a one-act crime drama set in the 1940s. The nostalgia for the more gentle and inoffensive recent past was enhanced by comparison of this play with work by Agatha Christie in the programme notes. And again by the cover design of the programme which looked like a reproduction of a 40s Penguin paperback.
This 45-minute one-act play by Alexi Stonehouse was performed in the round, with the courtroom at the Old Bailey placed on stage and the living room laid out in the middle of the hall with audience members watching from three sides.
Helen Saxton, in addition to directing duties, played Catherine with good control and natural movement across stage and Pete Watt was quietly effective as her treacherous husband. Paul Shave was slow and deliberate in an accurate portrayal of a barrister and Eric Saxton gave depth and gravitas as Mr Justice Wargrave. George Buckland played a policeman giving evidence and there was a short cameo performance by Liz Saxton as the cleaner Mrs Lena Croft. Ella Wilson played Catherine in court, a short part although she was sitting silently on stage all through.
It was, as is usual with Compton Players, a smooth, well-paced production with a sting in the tail.
We were warned in the programme that there would be two shots during the action, fired from a starter pistol using blank caps. Very loud they were too and enough to make a few audience members jump out of their seats.
Review from Janet Anderton.
Kudos to Compton Players for unearthing this compelling one act thriller from unknown (at least to this audience member) playwright Alexi Stonehouse.
The story is told largely in flashback focusing on the relationship between Catherine (Helen Saxton) and Philip Mackinder (Pete Watt) and the events that lead to Catherine gunning Philip down in their Regents Park apartment. This is in no way a spoiler as the fatal shooting is the first thing the audience sees and the first sharp intake of breath of many that this tightly crafted piece draws from its audience.
What feels like a period piece but according to the programme notes was written in 2021 is also chillingly contemporary with its portrait of a veteran suffering from PTSD compounded by lasting side effects of malaria. This turns a decorated war hero into a misogynistic, gaslighting, and psychologically abusive husband played with suitable menace by Pete Watt. He also manages to get the audience on side occasionally which brings a truthfulness to the relationship that is painful to watch. His chilling delivery of “You speak to them” leaving the audience in no doubt as to the power this man has over Catherine. Helen Saxton takes us on a roller coaster of an emotional journey with her understated and pitch perfect performance as Catherine, not a particularly likable character but trapped in a claustrophobic loveless marriage that her pleas for attention suggest was very different at the start of their ten years together.
The dialogue between them crackles and captures the era perfectly. “Laughing in your fists at us”, “I’d really rather not” and the temptation to go full Noel Coward is masterfully avoided.
Thankfully, and again a credit to the playwright, the structure allows us a respite from the intense relationship as we visit the court where Catherine Mackinder is on trial for murder. Proceedings are overseen by the Judge played with real authority by Eric Saxton and prosecuting KC (Paul Shave) who is perfect in the role as a barrister who can’t believe his luck at landing such a clear cut case and is clearly enjoying leading the witnesses and provoking mild outrage from the uncredited and offstage counsel for the defence.
The witnesses provide an engaging way to deal with some of the necessary exposition and background character development that would have felt extremely forced if left to the central characters.
Liz Saxton is suitably aggrieved as the hard done by housekeeper, Mrs Croft and George Buckland delivers a well crafted turn as a naive and potentially incompetent PC that provides the killer testimony in court.
This one act play is full of twists and turns, and was directed with pace and sensitivity by Helen Saxton. The design evoked the world of Agatha Christie both in decor and costuming and I spent a large part of the 45 minutes expecting Poirot to make an appearance, until I realised that Alexi Stonehouse had cast me (and the rest of the audience) in that role as well as the role of juror as the curtain falls before any verdict is delivered.
My verdict is clear. I find the Compton Players Guilty of delivering an extraordinary one act play in a most exceptional manner.
Review from ODN.
Last month I was lucky enough to be able to go and see the Compton Players perform their first production since our world of drama was hit by the effects of Covid.
Evil will Come is a one act play written by Alexi Stonehouse in the most engaging genre of Crime and Mystery. Helen Saxton was in place as the Director on this first step back on stage and the scene was set, but a member of the cast as well; it was a delight to see the whole cast has worked together on all aspects of the production.
The lights dimmed and ‘BANG!’ suddenly we were all wanting to know what was happening and why. With one of the most dramatic starts to a performance the stage was set for this period piece, set just after the Second World War. Focusing on how it had impacted the lives of those fighting and left behind with a bit of the magic Agatha Christie inspired in her work thrown in, the feeling of those times was palpable.
The performances between the two main cast members Helen Saxton as Catherine and Pete Watt as her husband Philip MacKinder set the feel of the play perfectly: the tense yet wistful way their relationship had become summed up, the two differing lives they had had in the war and the difficulties of coming back together having changed in their time apart.
The cast was small but performed well, with clear voices given there didn’t seem to be any mics. Liz Saxton as the housekeeper was a wonderful performance, I really wished we’d had more opportunities to see her in action, as she gave her dramatic performance. The set and lighting were simple but effective allowing the cast to drive the performance with little distraction and switches between the flash backs and the Court room scenes were smoothly done and easy to follow. The Court Room itself has to have a mention as it was a testament to what can be achieved with some well-placed and painted cardboard.
The performers had clearly invested a great deal in thinking through the motives and lives of their characters as well as the clothing they would have worn, keeping it within the time frame of the period piece effectively.
I watched the whole play for 45 minutes without a break, on the lookout for clues as to what the outcome may be, thinking all the time that I knew what was inevitably going to have happened. Without giving away the plot, I was wrong! and I imagine many others in the audience were the same.
Well done, Compton Players for a wonderful performance, that kept us all on the edge of our seats.
Review from Compilations.
An evening with The Compton Players
Welcome back and well done to our Players.
Their Autumn production was Evil Will Come, a one act play written this year by Alexi Stonehouse (an Agatha Christie style play in one part). No intermission. The 45-minute duration didn’t warrant it. Instead, refreshments were served before the performance.
The seemingly simple play takes place mostly in the Old Bailey in 1948; with flashbacks to a flat in Regents Park the previous year.
Pete Watt gave us yet another highly individual performance. He was ably supported by the usual suspects who made a strong, plausible team.
The printed programme itself, not usually worth the mention, was a gem. The cover was in the style and colours of Penguin crime novels. Very striking. The programme’s contents were extensive, interesting and a good read in themselves. There were ‘reports’ from the Chair of the Players and the play’s director. Lastly, but not leastly, was a fascinating run down of Agatha Christie’s disappearance. Again, a good read in itself.
To round up, a good time was had by all.
Well done Players.