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Fatal Encounter

Francis Durbridge
Ian Dickens Productions
Civic Theatre, Darlington, and touring
(2010)

Production photo

Francis Durbridge is one of the world’s most prolific thriller writers and his name is synonymous with intricately detailed and beautifully written ‘whodunits’. Fatal Encounter is the fourth of Durbridge’s plays to be staged by theatre impresario Ian Dickens, and he has done a jolly good job of it to boot.

The story revolves around Joanna Mansfield, played by the wonderful Anita Harris, the wife of a successful publisher, Howard Mansfield (Michael Howe). For quite some time, Joanna has been acting rather strangely and her neurosis, paranoia and general jumpiness are beginning to cause Howard concern.

A series of bizarre events, including her handbag being stolen during a mugging then being left outside the couple’s front door with contents fully intact, lead up to Howard returning home one evening to find that Joanna has shot Perry Kingsley (Aaron Bixley), the husband of her best friend, Grace (Susan Skipper). In an effort to protect his fragile, vulnerable wife, Howard elects to take the rap for the shooting himself and, unwittingly, embroils himself in a world of international blackmail and conspiracy.

Anita Harris is on top form in the role of Joanna and her performance is so accomplished that, despite the skill and talent of her co-stars, she dominates the entire piece. That said, the performances given by Nicholas Ball as the dogged detective Inspector Coldwell, Neil Stacy as the suave, sophisticated art dealer Mark Adler, Susan Skipper as the rather beautiful best friend, and Michael Howe as the harassed husband, are entirely commendable. A supporting cast made up of Aaron Bixley, Michael Kirk, Miranda Magee and Michael Carrington serve the principals admirably.

Durbridge’s script crackles along at a rip-roaring pace and he throws plenty of red herrings into the mix, confounding even the most diligent of audience members. Ian Dickens’s direction is sharp and dynamic, keeping the momentum up throughout.

The action takes place in the home of Howard and Joanna Mansfield, at 28 Clifton Place in Holland Park, and the wonderful set is beautifully dressed. In fact, the only mystery that remained unsolved at the end of the performance was who should be given the credit for its design. I could find no credit in the programme notes.

This production of Fatal Encounter is a resounding success and is highly recommended.

Touring to Tunbridge Wells and Plymouth

Sheila Connor reviewed this production in Guildford

Reviewer: Steve Burbridge