Signpost to Murder

Monte Doyle
Ian Dickens Productions
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2007)

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Ian Dickens Productions turn out so many plays that it must be difficult to keep track of what impression they are trying to make on their audience each time. In this case the ‘Signpost’ must have been pointing in the wrong direction as the play seems to have completely lost is way. Is it a thriller, a comedy, a murder mystery or a psychological study? Certainly the audience was unsure whether to gasp, laugh, or cry – and mostly they decided that laughter was the best medicine.

The cast are almost all well known from the various soaps on TV – Emmerdale, The Bill, The Royal etc., and I have to admire them for their ability on television to learn enormous chunks of dialogue each week and give it life on screen, and then forget what they have learnt and go on to the next script. There is no time to develop a character or to delve into the inner workings of the human mind, or even to build up the suspense which is necessary for a thriller and here, try as they might, the suspense and mystery were lacking and the whole was rather a muddle.

To begin: what was the period? The programme tells us it is set in the early sixties, and the short shift dresses of our heroine certainly confirmed this, but the furnishings and décor were old fashioned and dull and would not have suited this trendy young miss even in a country cottage, although the set was very comprehensively designed and constructed with living room, staircase, and glimpses of the rooms beyond.

The story concerns a man incarcerated in an institution for the criminally insane, having allegedly murdered his wife, and if he can remain free from the hospital for twenty eight days he is entitled to a retrial and maybe prove his innocence, and he has planned his escape well. He will hole up at a house in the village until the time has passed, and at the house he chooses lives Sally Thomas whose husband is out of town for a few weeks. Held at gunpoint she appears frightened – but it’s not long before she indulges in easy conversation and eventually comes out with the surprising “I’ve always known something was missing from my life – I think I’ve always been in love with you!” By the interval I was convinced that they were both mad!

The escapee is Roy Collier – played by Peter Amory – a man trying to prove his innocence but given to sudden bursts of uncontrollable anger. Nicola Wheeler’s Sally fluctuates between terror, reasonable conversation, hysterical anger and seduction. Tony O’Callaghan’s hospital doctor is wearily resigned to a demanding job, but shows his caring sympathetic side at the end, and ex-policeman Robert Banks still looks like a policeman which is quite suited to the role of male nurse Reg Cartwright at the mental institution. The most convincing character was Tony Scannell in a short appearance at the end as Inspector Bickford.

Surprisingly entertaining, as it led to many discussions in the interval. Did he or didn’t he? Was there a body in the bath or not? Where did the blood really come from, and is she as innocent as she appears?

Audiences will have to make up their own minds!

Reviewer: Sheila Connor