Solving a real cold case

Cadfael - The Virgin in the Ice 

Lichfield Garrick 

**** 

ELLIS Peter’s stories of Crusader -turned -Benedictine Monk proved a popular take on the much trodden murder mystery genre when her novels were published in the late 1970s. 

The BBC clearly saw a gap in the market when they commissioned 13 of her books for a successful run of episodes in 1994,  starring Derek Jacobi as the eponymous hero.

A kind of ‘ Born again Columbo’ if you will.  The gentle and slow moving stories  were in stark contrast to the high energy , cops and robbers output that monopolized TV screens at the time.

Cadfael’s transition to the stage is a brave move. In a time when Producers are looking for ‘safe’ and ‘ sellable’ titles to get bums on seats, Middle Ground Theatre Company must be commended for taking a chance on a play that is both new and untested.

This is no small endeavor in any department.  A cast of 15,  a set that includes pre -filmed sections and extensive use of sound effects and original music are large scale elements of an impressive and loyal adaptation by director, producer and writer Michael Lumney.

The play  retains much of the serenity and deliberate slow tension  that made the TV series so successful. Dialogue and exposition of narrative play a crucial part in moving the story forward. 

Scenes are relatively short and the various locations provide pace and variety. In terms of creating an atmosphere, the piece mostly achieves that , combining effects such as falling snow with detailed backdrops, projections and a host of wintery sound effects.

Richard Walsh ( London's Burning ) gives gravitas to the lead role - letting us believe perfectly that he has a past that is somewhat incongruous with his peaceful present. Stephen Beckett thunders as Alain le Gauchier  - an imposing presence both physically and vocally. 

There were problems, as might be expected on the first night with a largely new cast and a break in the touring schedule. Sound levels were not always consistent and at times dialogue was not heard over the howling gale. Accents occasionally crossed borders from Welsh to English and staging positions sometimes meant that actors were delivering a lot of lines upstage, losing facial expressions and some vocal clarity.  The fight scenes could have packed more of a punch, though the main sword fight sequence was well executed and genuinely exciting. Small problems that will doubtless be overcome.

It is unlikely  you will find a play quite like this on the touring circuit.  In the hands of Middle Ground Theatre Company, celebrating it’s 25th anniversary this year,  it makes an impact and deserves a look.  For those seeking something a little different from the usual round of revivals and safe bets, this is certainly worth a trip. Who knows? See it once and it might become a habit. To 05-10-13.

Tom Roberts 

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