Deadly Nightcap

Francis Durbridge

Nottingham Theatre Royal

(2004)

Review by Steve Orme

Francis Durbridge was widely recognised as a master of the verbal cliffhanger. He published 35 novels and wrote several radio and television series.

Before famous detectives such as Bergerac, Inspector Morse and Jack Frost appeared on the small screen, Durbridge's creation Paul Temple enjoyed almost cult status by effortlessly solving crimes week after week. I can just about remember Francis Matthews playing Temple as a suave, clever action- man on television in 1969.

When Colin McIntyre's company chose Deadly Nightcap for their second offering in the classic thriller season in Nottingham, I was expecting the typical Durbridge whodunit, with respectable, middle-class people getting themselves involved in murder and trying to wriggle out of their seemingly inextricable plight.

That's exactly what you get and the audience let out gasps of surprise at the end of several of the scenes. The suspense leaves you on the edge of your seat but there's a real anti-climax at the denouement which confirms your suspicions but unsatisfactorily peters out. I didn't even realise the play had ended.

This is no fault of the cast who perform with vigour, enthusiasm and energy. Unfortunately this isn't one of Durbridge's better pieces. There are times when the writing is stilted and on more than one occasion characters clumsily reveal who they are or how they came to be in their present circumstances.

Deadly Nightcap is the tale of Jack Radford who wants his wife Sarah dead. Jack enlists the help of his girlfriend in his ingenious plan to murder Sarah. But it goes horribly wrong. A body is discovered by the swimming pool. There are several suspects who all have a motive for murder. It has all the right ingredients apart from an unexpected ending.

The company have set it in the 1970s but although kipper ties, jump suits, Trimphones and droopy moustaches abound, it never turns into a parody of itself.

Jo Castleton gives an excellent performance as Sarah Radford who's almost convinced she's losing her mind because of the tricks her husband plays on her. And there are fine cameos by Stephen Cheriton as the geeky Geoffrey and Hannah Smith as the nosy housekeeper.

Director Nicholas Briggs gives us a well-paced production which rarely flags. It's just a pity the ending's so unsatisfactory.

The Classic Thriller Season continues until September 4th