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The Big Sleep

By Raymond Chandler, adapted for the stage by John D Rakoff and Alvin Rakoff
The Mill at Sonning
(2011)

The Big Sleep production photo

Raymond Chandler was a prolific writer of American detective stories and The Big Sleep, published in 1939, was his first novel which was subsequently made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart.

Alvin Rakoff and John D Rakoff have intelligently adapted this novel for the stage and this is its world premiere as a play.

Simon Merrells has the Herculean task of stepping into the shoes of the Los Angeles Private Eye Philip Marlowe and he performs this role with relish, hitting the right balance between the tough charismatic detective who doesn't like guns and the smooth sophisticated womaniser.

The complex plot twists and turns like a corkscrew rollercoaster ride and with only seven actors playing over twenty six characters much doubling up is needed with split second costumes changes but it works extremely well.

Wheelchair bound General Sternwood (Michael Percival) is being blackmailed so he hires Marlowe to find the perpetrator, leading to a most convoluted set of murders, double-crosses, seedy pornography, missing persons and seduction.

Anna Doolan gives a cracking performance as the sassy sexy Carmen, the younger daughter of Sternwood who constantly lands in trouble, much to the angst of her older conniving dominant sister Vivian, a beautifully controlled portrayal by Samantha Coughlan.

There is excellent support from Martyn Stanbridge and Elliot Harper who play the bulk of the many other characters in the story with assurance.

Designer Eileen Diss's art deco set with black and white projected images effectively created the various locations and Alvin Rakoff's fluid direction kept the action moving at a brisk pace.

This was a splendid evening's entertainment and the cast richly deserved the audience's spirited applause.

"The Big Sleep" runs until Saturday 26th November

Reviewer: Robin Strapp