Review: The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie

There are two excellent performances in this production: Bob Blackadder’s very human detective, and Aaron Beaudette’s wonderfully realized Jan certainly stood out for me.

Christie’s rather outrageous script is a red herring run with more silly twists and turns than sense. The preposterous beginning in which the helpful stranger and the new widow engage in a long discussion of what to do about a murder, in the presence of the corpse, beggers credulity. Then virtually every character except the police is implicated as the murderer. The eventual identity of the “guest” was pretty apparent very early on, although Christie seemed to think it would be a surprise, and she may have been right, for there were some in the audience who actually gasped and applauded at the revelation. I expect that the silliness of the script may have been Bruce Baker’s motive for playing Sergeant Cadwallader as a funny rustic, but the rest of the production did not reflect that approach, so I am a little puzzled by the decision.

The Glen Building stage poses significant problems for a full play: it is cramped and the technical facilities are very limited. That may have accounted for the awkward sound cues in the opening. There is a fog horn which sounds a few times, then ends abruptly in mid-hoot, incongruously never to be heard again. The critical fatal gunshot which apparently begins the play did not come off as such, as it may have been a stumble or a door slamming. The one technical element which stood out for me as well done, given the limited capability of the stage was the lighting, which was inobtrusive, as it should be.

Scott Beaudoin was his usual comfortable self on stage, although his confident manipulator was a bit of a one-note performance, rather at odds with his sub-text, of which there was no hint in his performance. For the conceit of the plot to be credible, there really should be hints of the character’s true motivations. Yvonne Evans certainly played Mrs. Warwick with depth and verisimilitude, bringing nuance and control to any scene in which she appeared.

Bruce Manzer played the caregiver Angell with considerable finesse, on just the right key; this was a character that could have been melodramatic, but Manzer kept him in check. Laurie Manzer showed her acting chops in the confrontation scene with Mr. Beaudette, as they both chewed up the scenery in one of the more intense yet inconsistently written scenes in the play. Although Mrs. Bennett’s (Manzer) motivation for leading the hapless Jan into confession made only a little sense as yet another red herring, both actors played it to the hilt. Riley McMullen’s portrayal of Julian, the widow’s secret lover, is not easy to play, as he must convince us he is credible as a lover, yet treacherous, fickle, and motivated to kill. McMullen navigated this tricky path with considerable skill. I have to add that Jimmy Malyon’s corpse impressed me with its stillness, and I say that because playing a corpse is not as easy as it looks.

Nikaiataa Skidders, in her first Vagabond role, played with intensity but not much warmth. I wanted to believe that she was a credible lover; she certainly has the beauty and stage presence, but gave the character little dimension. Much of this might be attributable to the speed with which she delivered her lines. This may have been nerves, but there was no hint of humanity in the character. Only at the curtain call did she smile. If she had just slowed down and let that smile happen earlier on a few times, the whole play would have benefitted. I think Ms. Skidders shows promise: I look forward to seeing her develop.

Aaron Beaudette was a very pleasant surprise. He reminded me of a very young Burt Lancaster. He had a difficult assignment: to play a “retarded”-and-therefore-dangerous stereotypical character. Beaudette brought depth and conviction to the character and really overcame the limitations of the role. His moves were graceful and fluid, almost choreographed. His character was a real tour-de-force; and that is unusual in a young actor. I believe this young man has a future in theatre.

Bob Blackadder did what he always does so well: he was real. He just carried a complete character with him. That was Inspector Thomas on stage with all his ticks, experience and perplexities. He is so interesting to watch, yet he fits into his roles with just the right level of invention and realism. Blackadder really gave this strange play a level of conviction that, frankly the script does not inspire. This is definitely not a Mousetrap.

No one was credited for costumes, so I presume the cast more or less did their own. The beige set did little to allow costume colours to work emotionally, so that we had some strange combinations. The effect of the colour and texture of setting and costume on the emotional tone of the play is often missed in community theatre, and such was the case here. It really pays off in impact if someone who understands these techniques is engaged in this aspect of the production. Theatre is more than acting; it is illusion. Michael Togneri, who is directing Vagabond’s next effort, understands this. I hope he is given the tools he needs to pull it off.

Vagabond Theatre
The Glen Building Cornwall, Ontario Canada
Production Dates: October 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25 2008
Production seen October 23, 8 pm

Producer: Dan Youmell
Director: Katie Burke
Assistant Director: Micheline Lacasse
Stage Manager: Asshley McCool
Props Marjorie McCoy
Set Construction and Detail: Brian Fourney and Dan Youmelle

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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