Brian Blessed directs Spider’s Web at the Mill at Sonning review – ‘wicked humour’
For Spider’s Web, author Agatha Christie weaves a rather unexpected thread of comedy through one of her traditional murder mysteries. Originally created as a vehicle for the film actor Margaret Lockwood, a later revival at the old Nottingham Playhouse was the first proper acting job for Brian Blessed.
Here, Blessed returns to the Mill to direct Christie following his success last year with The Hollow. The veteran performer clearly has an affinity with the author’s dramatic style and while some of the comedy may be a little dated, Blessed’s surprisingly light touch uses physical and comedic punchlines well, making for a highly entertaining evening. There is humour too in Dinah England’s sombre walnut panelled set, which features a parquet floor laid out like a spider’s web and a rather majestic suit of armour.
The director is also blessed with an astute leading lady in Melanie Gutteridge. As Clarissa, Gutteridge is playful but also bold and a fiercely protective stepmother. Her white lies may lay the foundation for the plot but Gutteridge plays Clarissa with absolute integrity throughout. Anything less and we would have no sympathy for her.
Joanna Brookes as Peake and Eric Carte as Birch are excellent value as familiar Christie stereotypes that beef up the comedy while Luke Barton’s charming turn as feckless rich-kid Warrender provides the appropriate twist in the tale. Spider’s Web may not be Christies most successful stage play but Blessed has revived it with pace, precision and occasion touches of eccentricity that serve the text extremely well.
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