IT is a wind-lashed wintry night in the Lake District and a gale is howling around an isolated country house hotel on the edge of Bessy Boot Hill. The perfect setting for an Agatha Christie whodunit perhaps? But no, Stone Cold Murder at the Mill at Sonning is far edgier than anything the Queen of Crime ever served up.
Written by James Cawood, this gripping and entertaining thriller directed by Sue Wilson twists and turns like a rollercoaster on speed.
It is hot on atmosphere: from the start, there is an undercurrent of foreboding. As the storm rages, a branch bangs ominously against the French doors, the phone rings but it is a silent caller.
Then, a shadowy balaclava’d figure flits past the window. What’s going on? And, guess what? I’m not going to tell you because to do so would spoil what is a flawless evening of escapist pleasure.
Suffice to say, it’s a very cunning plot involving a stolen diamond, an ex-boyfriend looking for revenge and lust for filthy lucre. It is thoroughly absorbing, keeping you guessing — and wrong-footed — throughout.
But just to set the scene, we’re in the warm and welcoming reception area of the small hotel which newlyweds Olivia and Robert Chappell have recently purchased and are closing up for the winter.
The couple (Elinor Lawless and Elliot Chapman) are just settling down for a cosy drink (an incredible amount of booze appears to be consumed during the course of this play) when a furious knocking at the door reveals a walker who has lost his way and wants, indeed demands, a room for the night.
Tension builds as it becomes obvious that feisty Olivia has something to hide and Ramsay the stranger (Paul Brendan) wants whatever that something is.
And when belligerent ex-boyfriend Sam (a shouty Nick Waring) turns up with gun and bombast, it’s obvious he wants it too.
Skilfully, the action draws us blithely down one blind alley after another until the final unexpected denouement which confounds us all. Brilliant.
Continues until July 26.
Stone Cold Murder
The Mill at Sonning
Thursday, June 5