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The Unexpected Guest review at Mill at Sonning – ‘past its prime’

Scene from The Unexpected Guest at the Mill at Sonning.Photo: Andreas Lambis
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The opening scene of The Unexpected Guest features a corpse, a beautiful woman with a smoking gun and a stranger who arrives as a witness after the fact.

Basically it’s pure Agatha Christie. But the tedious exposition that follows for the next 30 minutes over the still-warm body of adventurer hunter Richard Warwick requires such a leap of faith that it’s difficult to imagine that this is the same author responsible for The Hollow and Spider’s Web.

Director Brian Blessed is accustomed to handling these labyrinthine whodunits with assurance, but not all of Christie’s work passes the test of time. Written in 1958, The Unexpected Guest may point an accusing finger at the psyche of the big game hunter but otherwise it’s awkwardly structured and incredibly cliched. Blessed and his cast struggle to find the right pace and tone.

There are some engaging performances, notably from Luke Barton as the excitable Jan and George Telfer as the ubiquitous, sinister butler Angell. Both of these characters are peripheral red herrings, however, and the plot hangs on the unlikely relationship between Sean Browne’s mysterious Michael Starkwedder and Kate Tydman’s far-from-grieving widow Laura. Their immediate attraction is integral to the plot and yet there is little chemistry between them. Browne appears uncomfortable with the admittedly chewy script and as a result, his performance lacks the necessary charisma.

On the plus side, designer Dinah England has created an evocative set littered with exceptionally realistic hunting trophies, crafted by the props team in keeping with Blessed’s role as a champion of wildlife conservation.

Brian Blessed: ‘I’m not bitter towards the West End. I just can’t stand it’

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Verdict
Brian Blessed directs a good looking but poorly paced murder mystery that's well past its prime
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