Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Becky Higgs as model and mistress Elsa and Rod Bissett as celebrated artist Amyas

Go Back for Murder




In these days of CCTV surveillance, CSI, DNA and groundbreaking forensics, Agatha Christie’s careful constructions around the deductive powers of a Miss Marple or a Hercule Poirot are showing their age.

But despite this play’s origins some 90 years ago now in the 1932 Hercule Poirot murder mystery Five Little Pigs, it has a modern contemporary feel, slipping easily from present to past, attempting to establish a cause of death, murder or suicide, some 16 years ago.

Clues are few, if there are any at all, and this is a play about memories, about recollections, about the bias and reliability of witnesses and tricks of the mind.

Christie wrote the play in 1960 and Poirot, the famous detective, is replaced by a young lawyer, Justin Fogg played here with a confident, assured air by Adam Woodward.

He is first of all the solicitor reluctantly acting for the young Carla Crale and by act II has become the narrator guiding us through the events of the past in Carla’s reconstruction.

Carla is played by Christina Peake in another fine performance. Just 21 she has received a letter from her mother which has changed her whole past life. Instead of her parents dying in a tragic accident when she was five she discovers her mother, Caroline, had died in prison, having been sent down for murdering her father.

The revelation was in a letter from her mother to be given to when she reached 21, and just to put a tin hat on it, her mother also declares she was innocent and Carla wants Fogg to help her prove that is true.

Carla is now living in Canada and first up is Jeff Rogers, her American fiancée, swaggered as much as played by Rod Bissett. Jeff is brash, loud, eminently unlikeable, over confident and with an accent from a part of the USA still to be discovered, oh, and he is strongly opposed to Carla trying to reopen the case.

That is all you need to know about the pain in the proverbial Jeff who is politely seen out by the firm’s loyal retainer Turnball, played with quiet efficiency by Robert Onions

Bissett seems much more at home as the somewhat excitable and eccentric Amyas Crane, celebrated artist and womaniser who sees his art as the be all and end all of his existence, with everyone and everything else secondary.

He also seemed to see women as either potential conquests or servants at his beck and call, which ensured at least 50 per cent of the audience could hardly care less when he shuffled off his mortal coil.

It is a fine performance portraying a man who would be seen in Christie’s day as a cad and a bounder able to sport a clutch of names on any suspect list for his sudden demise.

There is Carla’s mother’s much younger half-sister Angela, now a successful writer but then a teenage terror playing tricks on Amyas, who she clearly disliked. There is a well portrayed distinction by Sara Peltonen between her grown up novelist Angela and Amyas’s childish tormenter of 16 years ago.

blake brothers

The Blake brothers, Christopher Waters as Phillip on the telephone and Dave Mills as Meredith

Angela’s governess was Miss Williams, played in an appropriate prim and proper way by Dawn Vigurs. It is fair to say that Mr Crale’s regular dalliances into extra marital affairs and attitude towards women or indeed anyone else did not lie well with her.

Whether she was capable of murder - who knows? But she was certainly no fan.

Then there were the brothers Blake with Christopher Waters as Phillip, a successful businessman and Amyas’s oldest friend, who defended him to the hilt and had a distinct dislike of Caroline, for reasons unknown, with the murder merely reinforcing his view – unless that was to deflect suspicion of course.

Brother Meredith, played by Dave Mills, was a different kettle of fish, wealthy, generous, a friend to all, he had bought the Crale family home. Alderbury House. next to his own when Amyas died and Caroline was jailed and leased it out as a youth hostel. He’s also an amateur botanist with a sophisticated laboratory.

Among his specimens is a vial of conine which is what did for Socrates in 399BC. It’s the active ingredient of hemlock. Amyas died of poisoning by the way, bit of an old fashion choice of weapon these days, so worth a mention at least.

Finally in this gallery of possible rogues we have Elsa Greer, now Lady Melksham after going through husbands as others go through socks. She was Amyas’s latest flame, his muse, subject of his last painting.

Played with an air of resigned seduction by Becky Higgs, Elsa was not the first of Amyas’s mistresses, and you are certain she would not have been the last had it not been for his inopertune demise.

But she was the first he had brought home and paraded in front of his wife, her sister and his friends and even for a seasoned seducer that is a dangerous, and possibly. As it appears in this case, a fatal game to play – perhaps most important, it provides Caroline with a motive.

Act I sees Carla persuading Fogg to help her and then arranging her meetings with each of the possible suspects. If her mother was innocent then logic dictates the death was an unlikely suicide or one of the five must be the murderer.

The meetings give us an idea of both Carla’s father and Caroline, her mother, or at least how others saw them and their views on her guilt or innocence.

Carla’s ultimate plan was a reconstruction at the family home, reliving the events of 16 year’s ago relying on memories that may no longer be reliable, faded by time or coloured by bias.

It is up to the analytical solicitor’s mind of Fogg to spot an inconsistency, a tiny thread out of place which, when pulled, would see the whole narrative unravel.

There is no clue to be missed or followed in this one, a few red herrings maybe, but so obvious we know they can be dismissed in what is not so much a typical gripping Christie murder mystery but more an intriguing anatomy of a historic crime.

Director Chris Waters keeps the guessing game going well on a set which was complex in Act I with two sets of offices, one left one right, then a hotel room with a substantial family home and terrace hidden behind a back cloth.

First night scene changes were a little tardy but should get slicker as the run continues. Stan Vigurs’ lighting is imaginative, particularly in Act II when it highlights Fogg as the narrator contributing to what is a captivating production which draws you into not so much a whodunit as a whodidit. To 02-12-22.

Roger Clarke


Grange Players

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