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

Noose brings doubt to verdict

The Gioconda Smile

Billesley Players

Dovecote Theatre, Solihull


THE interval – not, I think, that anyone was waiting for it – came about 20 minutes later than is usual for productions whose starting gun is fired at 7.30 pm. There was an inescapable reason: there's no way of whistling through Aldous Huxley's philosophies, and this is a Huxley whodunit that is liberally laden with them. 

So we find ourselves contemplating – for example – the fascination of being ostracised and whether it is possible to be happy while living a lie. Even the good Dr Libbard, nicely judged by Iain Neville, becomes ensnared in self-analysis. 

But although there are a lot of words and the action is not over-hurried, this is an absorbing play that benefits from Sheila Parkes's assured direction and a reliable cast.  

The mystery that we wait to see resolved concerns the death of the wife of the wealthy Henry Hutton,  which could have been either suicide or murder – or perhaps murder in the guise of euthanasia – in the days when Britain had a death penalty.

And while we wait, we see Hutton, in a powerful portrayal by Graham Mason, move from the fiery and declamatory to the understandably terrified as he occupies a prison cell and awaits 8 am on a pre-ordained day. The more we see of him, the less we are able to decide whether or not we agree with the judgment of the court. 


Sharing centre-stage with him is Tracey Bolt, as the best friend of the late Mrs Hutton. Here again is a performance of unswerving confidence that ranges from the gentle to the alarmingly wild. 

Claire Davies gives a pleasing fragility to Doris, the very young woman whom Henry Hutton leads to the altar uncaringly quickly after the death of his wife; and Judy Taylor offers an eye-catching account of Nurse Braddock, a no-nonsense tartar who is all in favour of abolishing the male sex because none of them can be trusted, not even the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

The programme describes Douglas Hart as a longstanding member of the group – but this time around he finally gets to sit down because he is playing a likeable general who is confined to a wheelchair. Bob Gwynne, as the Warder, and Jo Wall, as Clara, are reliably involved in this pleasing production. 

But it is just a little disconcerting when people come in out of the rain without a spot of moisture on their shoulders. And those double doors, stage left, leading elsewhere in the country house, could gain believability if were not apparent that anyone passing through them is moving into darkness, whatever the time of day. A glimpse of, say, a picture hanging beyond them, even in just a little light, would usefully enlarge Douglas Hart's setting.

To 13-11-10.

John Slim 

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