The Gentle Hook
Ian Dickens Productions Ltd. and Swansea Grand Theatre
Grand Theatre, Swansea, and touring
When I see the name Francis Durbridge, my mind goes back to those far off radio days listening to Paul Temple and his curiously named wife, Steve. They were well constructed radio serials that were usually set firmly in middle class England. The plots always unravelled slowly with numerous red herrings being thrown in to confuse and frustrate the armchair detectives scattered around the country.
Although we were listening to plots dealing usually with a case of murder, everything seemed to be running along at a very civilised level with perfect manners accompanied by perfect speech. It all helped to reinforce our belief that all was well in post war Britain.
The Gentle Hook is a play that could have been set anytime between 1945 and 1970. It's the cosy middle class world that Durbridge liked to explore. The well-designed box set exudes success and privilege. The colours are strikingly rich, in fact the effect of the set is such that its impact overshadowed the opening dialogue to such an extent that I had to shake myself to concentrate on the action.
Luckily, I didn't miss much because this play is a slow starter. We learn about an impending marriage break up but as we don't know a great deal about the circumstances of the marriage it is easy for our attention to stray. That is until Stacey, the female lead, kills a male intruder and then the pace and interest pick up. Yes, killing is always much more acceptable when it's carried out by nice people.
Did Stacey Harrison know the intruder? Did she have an affair with him? Her story doesn't seem to add up. Is she being set up? Is it her husband who is behind it all because he can look shifty in a certain light? Who is telling lies? Who is telling the truth?
This show certainly possesses all the right ingredients to satisfy audiences of a certain age. It rolls along at a gentle pace, with a well-timed pistol shot coming in at just the right time to make sure we are wide awake for the denouement.
The gold medal for this performance must go to Deborah Grant who not only gave an excellent performance as Stacey but showed supreme professionalism when her co-actor Gareth Hunt had to leave the stage to get a prompt. The scene had to begin again and we were all on the edge of our seats willing them both through this nightmarish moment.
They picked it up and survived, although by now the pace was uneven and the insecurity was transmitting itself to the audience. This fell below opening night standard and had become more like a final dress rehearsal.
The upside of it all is that time heals and this episode will all be a good laugh on future chat shows or in autobiographies.
I award the silver medal to Tony Scannell in his cameo role as Gerald Waddington. It was played with a pleasing confidence and a fine sense of comedy.
The bronze goes to George Sewell who played Brad Morris. No great demands are placed on George's acting talent in this play but he does have an air of assurance that helps everything along., and "didn't he die well?"
Watching this play I couldn't help wondering if it had been original intended for radio. It certainly contains that typical explanatory language that radio demands when all visual stimuli are absent.
I feel this play has the potential to enjoy a successful tour. There is enough experience in this cast to pick it up and run it with confidence.
It tours to Bournemouth, Crewe, Stevenage, Lincoln and Basingstoke.
Reviewer: Tony Layton