Tuesday, 14 February 2017

REVIEW: Dead Simple at The Mill at Sonning

The theatre at the Mill at Sonning offers Dinner Theatre for up to 215 people and always presents an appealing season of plays. First up this year is an adaptation of a Peter James’s novel set in Brighton and based around his detective superintendent Roy Grace, first presented at the Dartford Orchard Theatre in 2015 followed by a nationwide tour.  Peter James’s novels detective mysteries with twist and turns that are said to mean you can’t put the book down. This tale certainly keeps you guessing.

This story is based around the stag night prank on Michael Harrison that goes horribly wrong and sets up an ever changing set of events that spiral towards the dramatic conclusion.

The challenge is shoehorning eight different locations into the small Mill thrust stage with no flying capacity, no proscenium arch and no understage. This is always the problem for the set designer at this venue and it requires an ingenious solution or fewer locations. Alex Marker’s set creates the different locations in one composite set but this naturally restricts the acting spaces and the low ceiling means some key  scenes are set in a restricted second level which limits the action and the audience view.

This problem, combined with the over reliance on a walkie talkie and mobile phones to develop the drama  and reveal key plot development , severely restrict the adaption as a theatrical  event. The story still intrigues the audience but one is left with a sense that it works better as a novel or perhaps a multi location TV drama.

The cast of nine main actors struggle to really develop their characters or sustain the tension in this version and too often the audience has time to reflect on the plot holes and are tempted to talk during the show! The best performances are from Louise Stewart as Ashley Harper, the fiancée of Michael Harrison, who is played by Lewis Collier and by Daniel Buckley as Davey Wheeler, the son of a recovery vehicle driver who accidently finds himself in pivotal role in the mystery.

The two detectives, Roy Grace played by Gwynfor Jones and Detective Sergeant Branson played by Vincent Jerome have little opportunity to do more that detect and explain the plot and Branson spends far too long on his mobile to an offstage character , Bella, to explain the detective work going on!

Matt Milburn, Josh Harvey, Bradley Stanbridge and Aneta Piotronwska play the other supporting character but with limited stage time.

The surprises when they come don’t really shock although the cast work hard to portray the twists and turns but if you are a fan of the novel or already know Roy Grace as a character; it offers a very pleasant evening at the Mill.

Reviewed by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★
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