Sentinel Review 11 February 2022
OH what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive
An original quote by Sir Walter Scott could not be more appropriate for a night at Stoke Rep this week.
As a fan of a murder mystery, I was thrilled at the opportunity to be able to watch the Rep Players’ opening night of A Spider’s Web.
Written by Agatha Christie, the play follows a tense plot led by Clarissa, a fantasist, daydreamer and wife of a foreign diplomat.
Revelling in her own tales of adventure and make-believe, she dreams of the day she finds a dead body in her library. And one day she has a chance to live out her daydreams as she finds a body in her drawing room.
Keen to dispose of the body before her husband returns with an important foreign politician, Clarissa persuades her house guests, a curious bunch, to become accessories as they attempt to dispose of the body and convince a policeman there hasn’t been a murder at all.
Through a masterclass of drama and comedy, the players give a convincing and confident portrayal of this 1950s classic.
Like any good mystery, Christie’s fantastic writing allows the performers on stage to develop their unique individual characters.
Shelley Rivers has the task of leading her guests through this far-fetched situation as Clarissa, playing the inventive and yet charming wife wonderfully.
An impressive performance from Shelley as she hardly leaves the stage for the entire play, showing true professionalism throughout.
There is a solid performance from Peter Hermans playing Sir Rowland, along with James King as house guest Jeremy Warrender.
Inspector Lord (James Freeman) didn’t miss a thing, playing the perfect sleuth.
Each character gave a sterling performance with, unusually for Christie, a hint of comedy.
Mildred the gardener (Rosemary Gresty), while obsessively protective of the house furnishings, delivered her one liners with perfect comedic timing.
Richard Masters, as the quick minded butler, plays his role with a clever eye to maintain the suspense by offering up his own musings to keep the audience guessing.
It is unusual to see a young character feature in a murder mystery, but Zoe Bailey took on the challenge of playing Clarissa’s step daughter Pipa with just the right amount of curiosity and petulance that you’d expect from a young girl despite the evident mature age of the actress.
Finally, I must mention the dead body. Killed off in the first act, Cairnan Roberts plays Oliver Costello, a somewhat unlikeable fellow but it seems that the household just can’t get rid of him in act two!
A fine set depicting the mayoral home of the Halisham-Browns stood proud on the Rep stage. Commendation must also go the director Chris Lockett and to the whole production team.
Whodunnit? Well there’s only one way to find out. Scurry along to the Stoke Rep where you will be guaranteed a night of suspense, entanglement and subtle humour in equal measure.