Saturday, April 13, 2024

Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

Review – Contradiction – Chester Little Theatre

ONE of the joys of a company like Chester’s Little Theatre is the range of work that they present. Alongside bold productions of renowned classics and joyful revivals of crowd-pleasing favourites they also programme regular premieres. A couple of months ago saw the amateur premiere of Sheila’s Island, and this week comes a new play from company member Andy Fox-Hutchings, who has written several works for this venue.

Contradiction is a murder mystery with a bit of a twist. The curtain goes up to reveal a pair of detectives surveying the scene of a suspicious death. Maxine Gallimore has expired suddenly whilst drinking a toast at a funeral wake, and there’s little doubt of foul play and no shortage of suspects.

DCI Nicholls (Stephanie Scott), who was hoping for a tidy case to ease her into retirement, and the ambitious young DS Ellwood (Kelly Cowley) soon realise that Maxine wasn’t exactly adored by her friends and family. To be honest just about all of them had the essential ingredients of motive, means and opportunity, but this murder isn’t on the Orient Express, and they are hoping to be able to identify a single culprit.

If you enjoyed Rian Johnson’s 2019 movie Knives Out you will recall the episodic format, in which each suspect’s interview turns  into a flashback, in which they relate their version of events by winding back the clock and replaying the moments leading up to the victim’s collapse. While all their stories are broadly the same, there are subtle (and some not-so-subtle) differences in point of view. Are their memories merely at fault, or are they deliberately obfuscating to conceal their guilt? The fun is in spotting the differences in the repeated retelling of the same story and trying to work out the identity of the killer before the final reveal.

As in all good murder mysteries, the lead detective has a sidekick to bounce their thoughts off. Holmes had Watson, Poirot had Hastings, and Dalziel had Pascoe. So it is that Nicholls has Ellwood. This is an important device in many a dramatised detective story because it gives us the opportunity to hear the thought processes behind the unravelling. Here though, where the key is in letting us work out the clues for ourselves, it occasionally steals our thunder. At repeated moments during the telling of the stories, one of the officers will snap their fingers and halt the action, stopping to flag up a particular quirk in the latest account. It’s a bit like having someone sitting next to you on the sofa, pausing the TV to tell you what you just saw or what they think is coming next. Additionally these interjections are delivered with slow deliberation, when they could benefit from a little more punch.

This small reservation aside, the real strength in the show is in the development of the various characters. Through successive iterations of the same story we are seeing each of the assembled company through a different pair of eyes, and it is the subtly nuanced differences in their performances that tell the real story.

Particularly noteworthy is Dawn Adams who plays the victim, Maxine. The only character who doesn’t get the opportunity to tell the tale in her own words, she really succeeds in giving us a sequence of perspectives. Surely few actors would relish the thought of dying on stage several times during every performance, but Adams is clearly having great fun with it. Equally strong is Alex Wright as Leon Ravell. There seems to be no disagreement over Ravell’s gravitational attraction to the table of drinks, but Wright achieves an impressive range of differing levels of sobriety and sliminess. A similarly focused attention to detail comes from Nuri Ucuncu as the upright and aloof Gareth Edgeworth.

The show has been directed by the author, assisted by Ally Goodman, and across the board it is obvious that the cast and directors have had an absolute hoot putting the show together, which communicates itself well to the audience. This is tongue in cheek drama with a lot of sly semi-asides across the fourth wall, and it garners its fair share of well deserved laughter along the way. Whilst it could maybe benefit from the odd extra shot of adrenaline, it is a tremendously entertaining mystery that takes a sideways look at the genre.

Review by Nigel Smith

Popular Articles