Monday, 9 May 2011

Verdict Devonshire Park Theatre Eastbourne

Agatha Christie's
Devonshire Park Theatre

9th-14th May 2011
Performance seen 9th May
Agatha Christie's The Verdict cast in Eastbourne

(appearance order)

Lester Cole - Matthew Lewis
Mrs Roper - Elizabeth Power
Lisa Koletzky - Susan Penhaligon
Professor Karl Hendryk - Robert Duncan
Doctor Stoner - Mark Wynter
Anya Hendryk - Cassie Raine
Hellen Rollander - Holly Goss
Sir William Rollander - Peter Byrne
Det Inspector Ogden - Andrew Malkin
Police Sgt Pearce - Mark Martin

There are are at least 3 regular 'official' critics who cover the shows at Eastbourne's theatres. Two of those have always appeared to give balanced reviews giving the reader a fair insight as to whether a show is worth seeing. And then there's the Eastbourne Herald who's critic rarely has a good thing to say about anything.

Fortunately this undue criticism has become so regular that I know of no regular theatregoer (or even member of theatre staff) who actually treats any of the reviews seriously. In fact it's more a case that regulars go to the shows and then just wait to see what the Herald finds to moan about.

Now we attended Verdict the same night as the critics. Once again the Agatha Christie Theatre Company staged a superb production. It received a rapturous response from the audience. Everybody who attended The Friends of the Devonshire Park Theatre after show event said they thought it was great and left you thinking. The Eastbourne Herald? "Verdict has some fine performances, one wavering accent and a layered, restrained - yet not exactly thrilling - story".

Fair enough. A review is an individual verdict (no pun intended) on a production. But I don't think the term 'theatre critic'  should mean criticising things that nobody else in the audience seems to have a problem with time after time.

"Wavering accent"? Whose?

"Some fine performances"? Who was bad then? We have a cast of 10 and yet only some were 'fine' This implies the majority of the 10 were not fine - were they bad, adequate or what?

"Yet not exactly thrilling story"? What was wrong with it then?

I sincerely hope holiday makers in Eastbourne don't pay too much attention to the reviews in the local paper because writing like this does little to promote the arts in what is already a very difficult financial time. Yes there are a few shows (and I mean a FEW, a real minority,over many years) I haven't enjoyed and I don't hide the fact at the time but I refuse to believe that one person can really have such a low opinion of almost every show they see in Eastbourne. Heck they don't even have to pay for the ticket either for themselves or their companion!!

As you may have gathered I ,together with everybody I spoke to, thoroughly enjoyed this production.

A story that is very different from your usual Agatha Christie murder mystery. No its not a 'whodunnit,' not even a 'whytheydidit'. Its more like a 'willtheygetawaywithit' and even then there's unforeseen twists and turns leading to a thought provoking ending.

If, unlike the Herald critic, you are prepared to pay a little more respect to the story you will notice that there are several important subjects that are raised in the script. Questions about theft, severe disability, about the rights of immigrants and on race and persecution. About whether the rich get a more favourable treatment from our legal system than the poor. Questions about love, temptation and faithfulness.

No it's got no gunshots, no sudden jumpy moments and no pyrotechnics all things that our official critic seemed to want. But I didn't need this to class a story as thrilling. This is a story that is a thought provoker from beginning to end and I simply don't expect every murder mystery to be a 'jumpy shocker'.

Dodgy accent? For me there wasn't one. In fact Agatha Christie wrote this story in that the country of origin of the main characters is NEVER mentioned. Many assume that they are Germans that were persecuted by the Nazis however Christie gave the characters names that could originate from a multitude of  European nations. This just adds to the mystery. So how can somebody identify a waver in an accent that we quite honestly don't know in the first place? The answer is you can't. Besides whatever accent it was Susan Penhaligon, Cassie Raine and Robert Duncan maintained it admirably throughout. Those were the 3 actors who needed to worry about an accent.

The set must get a mention because it is an amazing recreation of a huge study. With props-a-plenty it's typical of the really high standard we've come to expect from the Agatha Christie Theatre Company. It really adds to the enjoyment of a play if the scene looks realistic.

The cast? Well what a cast this is. The top billboard poster headline 'celebrities' are probably Elizabeth Power and Susan Penhaligon. However, celebrity status has little to do with the enjoyment of this show however as I found all performances to be formidable. Power's comical but key character ,the nosey Mrs Roper, is a clever contrast by Christie to the other more serious parts.

However, there is one 'celebrity' who has received little mention in publicity material. I would have thought for those who follow their idols he would be worthy of a mention?

The name Matthew Lewis may not mean much to the older generation but millions of fans of J. K. Rowlings's novels will know Matthew as Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter movies. It's not as if he's only done a couple. He's been in all eight (including the one coming up). It does seem a bit of a waste that Matt's teen idol status hasn't been put to good use with getting some younger people to the theatre. In fact I know he has more than a few female fans who are now aged "double teenager" or greater!

In fact it is Matt  we see first on stage and it his fine dramatic performance that kicks off this brilliant drama with one fine actor following another.

Whilst I can appreciate there will be some who will prefer the more action packed, blood and gore murder mysteries for me Verdict hit the mark completely. Yet I honestly believe that even those who prefer a more intense drama will not find this production as bad as some would have you believe.

A final footnote - This is the third consecutive show I have seen at the Devonshire Park Theatre where some inconsiderate idiot has had a mobile phone ring during the performance. I think we really have got to the stage where a standard recorded announcement is made before curtain up to ensure the bloody things are switched off!
The glares from both the cast and the other audience members on this occasion sadly cannot reverse these irritating interruptions.

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