Ruth Rendell, adapted for the stage by Margaret May Hobbs
Middle Ground Theatre Company
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Dean Smith and Joe Eyre
Dean Smith and Karen Drury

Leaving the theatre after the show, there was a buzz and chatter which usually indicates that the audience not only enjoyed the show but found a lot in it to talk about.

There was a lot to talk about here but it was mostly on the lines of everyone trying to explain their version of the story to everyone else, and with so many devious twists in the plot, so very many changes of venue and such a relatively short time to fit them all in, there were a lot of questions. Confused? We were, but also intrigued to find where the story was going.

The play takes in two kidnappings, a suicide and a fatal shooting but they fade into insignificance when compared to the psychological aspect, and the focus of the story is mainly the relationship between two boys.

We find young Joe, underprivileged, unloved and uneducated, standing on the platform of Paddington underground station obviously ill at ease and nervous. As a train roars in, he flings his arms wide, but did he really mean to jump? We’ll never know because fellow traveller Sandor rushes over, hauls him back and claims he has saved his life therefore he now belongs to him.

Joe seems quite happy with this arrangement—‘belonging’ is something he has never experienced before—and he goes along with whatever his intellectual new friends wants, even to the extent of planning to kidnap Nina (Florence Cady), the wife of wealthy landowner Ralph Apsoland (Richard Walsh), a woman understandably nervous having experienced kidnapping previously.

Joe Eyre is the unpredictable and rather strange Sandor in a very intense and volatile performance which must leave him totally drained every night but certainly keeps us intrigued wondering about his character and his motives. In complete contrast, Dean Smith’s Joe evokes sympathy and concern for his innocence and what will happen to him in the hands of this man who seems to have a very cruel streak in his nature.

With a large cast, and so many venues to fit in, it’s not possible to give any depth to each character, but the actors do a great job with what they have to work with and director Michael Lunney keeps the action moving smoothly along with impressive sound effects keeping the tension high.

There is a little humorous light relief from Sandor’s mother Diana (Karen Drury), outspoken and as down-to-earth as one can be with a millionaire husband and money to burn. A growing relationship between the threatened Nina and her driver Paul (Paul Opacic) is nicely judged and Opacic is also a very fatherly figure to eleven-year-old Jessica (Eva Sayer), but the one who really lights up the stage and comically livens up the whole proceedings is Rachel Hart as Sandor’s sister Tilley. As outspoken and down-to-earth as her mother, she is much more concerned with the practicalities of getting ransom money than bothered about any ethical considerations.

This is a very entertaining and intriguing production, but it does leave a lot of questions unanswered.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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