The Late Edwina Black
William Dinner and William Morum
Nottingham Theatre Royal
This summer's Classic Thriller Season, an eagerly awaited event at a time when there's very little live theatre for anyone to experience, has seemed somewhat different this year: a couple of new faces, the absence of a few regulars and two plays with only a handful of actors - a sign that the recession is taking its toll?
The four-week rep season started inauspiciously, in my opinion, with Nicholas Briggs' spoof of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles which I found lacking in humour.
But Colin McIntyre, who's been producing the season for the past 21 years, usually knows what audiences want. For the final play he's turned to an amazingly clever offering from William Dinner and William Morum. The Late Edwina Black is probably their best-known play and, like all good thrillers, has you guessing right until the end.
So what constitutes a winning thriller? According to the programme, it's one that contains "love, betrayal, revenge, blood, murder and intrigue". There's no blood in The Late Edwina Black - but you'll find all the other ingredients in abundance.
The Late Edwina Black is set in the main room of Amberwood House, Gregory Black's home, in 1895. His wife Edwina has just died; he stands to inherit her considerable fortune which will mean he'll no longer have to struggle as a school teacher.
It soon becomes apparent that while his wife has been lying ill upstairs, Gregory and Edwina's companion Elizabeth have become lovers; Mrs Black's death means they can plan a future together.
The arrival of a detective who drops the bombshell that the funeral has to be delayed leads to claims, counter-claims, revelations and surprises which show that no one can be trusted and no one is as they appear on the surface.
Patric Kearns does an admirable job as Gregory, showing emotions ranging from resolute strength when obstacles are put in his way to sheer anger when it appears his sought-after future is in jeopardy.
Jo Castleton gives an equally impressive performance as Elizabeth, particularly when she can't overcome her feelings that Edwina's presence still permeates the house. She also exhibits astonishment and eventually resignation as her aspirations are seemingly thwarted.
John Hester as Inspector Martin is the thorough, almost plodding policeman given the job of piecing together the mystery surrounding Edwina's last day before she died. An experienced actor, Hester gives us an inspector who's far from the stereotypical old copper of the late Victorian era and revels in the character's idiosyncrasies, right down to his fondness for a cup of tea at any time of the day.
Maggie Stables is a delight as the opinionated housekeeper Ellen who's a stickler for convention. She gives a controlled, measured performance, adding a touch of humour early on and becoming increasingly distraught when she's singled out for blame.
Adrian Lloyd-James's direction is for the most part first-rate. Occasionally in the first half the action momentarily drags, usually when the script reveals exhaustive details of the characters' pasts.
But I enjoyed the second half immensely as the inspector cleverly peeled through the multiple layers before solving the mystery.
Colin McIntyre obviously knows that it's always best to leave audiences wanting more. With The Late Edwina Black he's done just that - and there'll be more next summer when the Classic Thriller season returns for its 22nd year.
"The Late Edwina Black" runs until Saturday, September 5th
Reviewer: Steve Orme