|.... Fatal Encounter
...... .... . .. ....... A thriller by
.. Francis Durbridge
Performed by Haxby Players 19th April 2006
The Spring production by the Haxby Players saw them on firm and familiar ground in the form of a stock British thriller by Francis Durbridge. Durbridge, a crime novelist, is famous for the Paul Temple BBC radio series of the fifties and sixties. In this production, director Robin Sanger has tried to evoke something of the atmosphere of those far off radio plays.
The action occurs in the study of an impressive Holland Park house, the home of one Howard Mansfield, a big name in publishing. Mansfield is wealthy and successful but also resigned to the trivialities of life as one of the chattering classes.
We quickly become aware that he harbours fears that his wife Joanna is having an affair. This is evidenced by her increasingly erratic and secretive behaviour.
So far, so simple, but where there would usually be a plot, with this play there is instead a trawler load of red herrings and a constantly shifting narrative with enough twists, turns and revisions to keep you guessing until the final scene. It is not so much a ‘who done it’ as a ‘what on earth is going on in it’. True to the Durbridge golden formula ‘everybody is lying, nothing is as it seems’ we simply don’t know who to trust or what to believe.
David Hudson as Mansfield managed to pull off a marathon run of a part, on stage in every scene he is, ostensibly, the innocent party, a man trying to make sense of the increasingly deceitful goings on around him. Although he, himself, is not averse to bending the law to suit his ends. A solid central performance here.
His wife Joanna portrayed by Brenda Sanger was rendered as a quivering bundle of free floating anxiety (with a dodgy streak of course). Her performance began to bring in the darker tones of the play which at times were in danger of being hidden by the middle class superficiality of the dialogue.
Mansfield’s secretary and business partner Hilary van Zale and Grace Kingsley, played respectively by Michelle Berry and Sheila Barnett both exuded the coolly efficient air of doyens of the publishing world, but we could never be sure where they stood in this very scheming scheme of things. While Ron Jeavon’s personification of Mark Adler the soave art dealer with the chilling smile provided top red herring value (or did he?).
Top marks go to Mitchell Pollington who debuted for the Haxby Players as Perry Kingsley, a thuggish, opportunist crook. His performance rang true as the east-end wide boy with a callous streak. Also sharing his first appearance was Michael Wise in the dual role of waiter and armed response cop. Anthony Crosbie oozed untrustworthy-ness as Rex Winter the photographer/sidekick/blackmailer/mugger/repentant (it really was that kind of play)
Into this motley ensemble and their efforts to deceive, enters Inspector Chris Coldwell. Shrewd and calm, Austin Barnett played Coldwell in a “less is more” style of acting which provided a nice counterpoint to the slightly hysterical shenanigans of the other characters. Coldwell was entirely plausible thanks to his understated performance.
So how was it? For this play the audience certainly needed to have their suspension of disbelief levels set on maximum. There were one or two incongruities which, along with the dated dialogue, created a sense of unreality, giving the impression that the action was taking place in some familiar, if slightly off kilter, alternative universe. For example; the theme music was Vivian Ellis’ “Coronation Scot” a tune beautifully resonant of the thirties and forties evoking images of streamlined steam trains thrusting through open countryside. Although associated with another of Durbridge’s works, it jarred with the contemporary urban setting of the play with its electronic rape alarm and mobile phone references.
The plays technical demands were handled well, a flash-back scene was executed smoothly using a small fore-stage, spot-lit against the blacked out set. Fight scenes, always a problem in live drama, were tightly directed and kept brief. Unfortunately for some reason the audience found these to be hilarious, dispersing the tension rather than heightening the drama. Which points to another problem with the writing; It’s difficult to know where this play sits. The rather preposterous nature of the plot seemed to indicate a comedic element, but it was played with a straight bat. Was it ironic? Post ironic? Or so bad it’s good? Who cares, this loyal audience loved it, it’s what they want from their Haxby Players.
But what on earth was going on?
Review by Steve Wilcox