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In the shadows

Posted: 12th April 2016

Theatre review by Henry Ascoli

Rehearsal for Murder, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

This cleverly-crafted murder mystery kept the Yvonne Arnaud audience guessing until the very last, following the format of the classic crime thriller to the letter.

Following the phenomenal decade-long success of The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, Bill Kenwright’s latest venture with the Classic Thriller Theatre Company makes a solid start.

Penned by the award-winning writing team Levinson and Link, whose work includes the mystery series ‘Murder, She Wrote’ and ‘Columbo’, this has all the typical trails of a ‘whodunnit’ - but it is the plot and delivery which set this play apart, never allowing the mind to wander and demanding the total attention of the audience throughout.

Playwright Alex Dennison is left heartbroken when his fiancée and leading lady Monica Welles is found dead from an apparent suicide.

On the anniversary of that ill-fated night, Alex assembles the same cast and crew in the same theatre, for a reading of his new play. But as the reading begins, it becomes clear that Alex believes that Monica was murdered and he intends to uncover her killer…

This is a clever use of a ‘play within a play’, as we watch the characters step in and out of their roles, and all the while playwright Alex calls the tune, pulling no punches as his anger and frustration threaten to boil over at any minute.

A deserted theatre proves the perfect setting - a familiar yet haunting venue for each of the characters, evoking dark memories as they step inside once more.

Meanwhile, this provides plenty of scope for witty references to the world of the performing arts, as we meet the ‘diva’ main man, a director who lives on his nerves and the former couple whose head over heels love has become a bitter hatred.

Yet all is not as it seems, and as suspense bubbles beneath the surface, the killer is kept in the dark, building towards a dramatic conclusion…

Robert Daws proves nothing less than a class act - a fine performance in the lead role of Alex, capturing his character’s ever-changing emotions and unflinching determination to uncover the truth behind his fiancée’s death. Yet it is also his strong stage presence which is evident throughout, tying together the play’s loose ends when it matters most.

Amy Robbins masters the elegant and mysterious Monica - the very definition of a leading lady - while David Matthews captures the arrogance and conceit of ageing actor Robert Duncan.

We also meet some familiar faces - Agatha Christie Theatre Company veterans Ben Nealon and Susan Penhaligon are no strangers to murder mysteries - and show their on-stage experience with assured performances once again.

There is no doubting the credentials of this production - an award-winning writing team, a well-crafted plot and strong choreography, yet there is a sense throughout that there is more to deliver.

We never truly get under the skin of each character - only gaining fleeting glimpses into their past - and the story behind the killing demands greater depth.

Nevertheless, fans of classic thrillers will not be disappointed - an enjoyable watch.

Rehearsal for Murder runs at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Saturday 16th April. To book tickets and find out more, call 01483 440000 or visit www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk