With only a day’s notice, Mercury Theatre Company stalwart Roger Delves-Broughton took over the leading role in this production after Brian Blessed had to pull out for medical reasons.
However, Delves-Broughton rises magnificently to the challenge while reading in. His elegant, imposing height and imperious manner suits the role of the actor manager Sir Francis Westwick very well and the rest of the cast raise their game in support.
Based on a Wilkie Collins novel, the production is set in Alexander McPherson’s Victorian theatre washed with gentle atmospheric colour. Westwick’s midnight reading of a Gothic play with a group of actor friends becomes the play itself, while the paying audience is trapped by the melodrama in more ways than one.
Mysterious European Countess Cavenna, stylishly played by Elizabeth Counsell, has dark secrets. Lynette McMorrough has fun playing a maid, nanny, Italian chambermaid and other stereotypes in rapid succession. Louise Breckon-Richards’ heroine Agnes Lockwood is a grave beauty thrown over by imperious Lord Montbarry in favour of Cavenna.
The production is entertaining with quite a few laughs at theatre, acting and melodramas’ expense plus super stage effects, but Collins has a lot to answer for. Exceeding even Thomas Hardy’s far-fetched coincidences, the creaking, melodramatic plot is stretched to its ultimate and to the audience’s endurance. Val May directs confidently but some of the writing’s worst excesses need a good prune.
Mercury, Colchester, September 8-18, then touring
- Wilkie Collins adapted by Philip Dart and Val May
- Val May
- Ivan Hale in association with the Mercury Theatre Company and the Theatre Royal, Windsor
- Cast includes
- Elizabeth Counsell, Louise Breckon-Richards, Lynette McMorrough
- Running time
- 2hrs 20mins