Given a Tony-award winning production in 1970 and two films, including the unforgettable duel between Olivier and Michael Caine in 1972, it’s a tall order for a revival of Anthony Shaffer’s twisty-plotted satire on country house murder mysteries still to fizz with terrors and surprises. In Giles Croft’s production for Nottingham Playhouse the game-playing continues however, with a craftily misleading cast list.
Andrew, a famous author of detective fiction with a penchant for game-playing, persuades his wife’s Italian-Jewish lover, Milo, to fake a robbery. Milo believes he will get away with the jewels and the wife, while Andrew claims the insurance. What ensues qualifies the play to be part of the Playhouse’s Sweet Vengeance Season, along with a Charlie Resnick thriller and Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy.
The first Act, in which suave Miles Richardson as Andrew has the better of James Alexandrou ‘s Milo in his sadistic power games, never catches fire. Its archness seems dated and Alexandrou (Martin Fowler from EastEnders) has a tendency to gabble. Things improve a good deal after the interval: Alexandrou relishes the necessary role-playing and the pacing picks up. And Croft’s production does allow the nastiness of anti-Semitism and brutal male competitiveness to seep through the manic entertainment.
The real star of the evening is, however, Barney George’s brilliant set, a mock country house which reveals and conceals rooms, cupboards and even a neo-Gothic frontage at the push of numerous buttons, aided by busy screens showing the gardens or relevant portraits, including one of Dame Agatha herself – just as in the film.