FOR most theatres an out–of–use auditorium would mean no show yet for the Mill at Sonning it means an opportunity.
The theatre in Sonning Eye is showing Dead of Night all this month, specially written and performed by Hotspur Theatre Company for the venue while it is undergoing renovations.
The story follows three actors, Matt, Philip and Olly, who are booked to perform their abridged version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the theatre. They arrive to find the auditorium out of order, so they are forced to perform the play from the venue’s brand new Water Wheel bar.
The show goes on, with a little creative improvisation from the cast. But bartender Nathaniel has his own story of murder, mystery and ghostly goings–on which leads the actors and their audience, into the darkened auditorium and the horror that lurks within.
More than 40 people attended the production on Sunday evening, most grabbing a drink from the bar while waiting for the play to start. In character from the off, Nick Malinowski, who played Nathaniel, served punters before declaring “last orders” to signal the start of the show.
Matt, played by Luke Beattie, is the first of the actors to arrive. The voice of reason, he sometimes seems overwhelmed and exasperated by the strong personalities of his co–stars, the pompous Philip (Antony Jardine) and womanising Olly (Rikki Lawton). The rapport between the three helps drive the play during its first few minutes, especially the bickering between Philip, who often gloats of his star role as Dr Elliot Spencer in Holby City, and the cocksure Olly.
References to the setting are rife. Olly has fallen in the Thames on his way to the theatre, while he also claims to have seen Hollywood actor George Clooney, who recently bought a house next to the theatre. There is even a light–hearted dig at the Bull pub in the village.
For those familiar with Shakespeare, the production of Macbeth is nothing new. Well–acted and often funny in places, especially when Olly depicts the murders of Lady Macduff and her son by butchering a lemon and a lime, the show is simply an entrée to Nathaniel’s offering.
As he turns the lights out, the bartender sets the scene. The Nethercott family, who lived in Sonning years ago, had a daughter called Lily who was burned as a witch after being accused of murdering her infant sister. Her father, Lord Nethercott, raged at the deaths of his daughters and vowed to get even with those involved.
Each death in the story is denoted by Nathaniel snuffing out a candle in the bar, plunging the theatre into ever–increasing darkness. Then the banging and screaming starts.
Left with the only three remaining lights, Matt, Philip and Olly go to investigate, each taking a section of the audience with them on their journey around the eerily dark theatre before joining up in the abandoned auditorium.
The immersive nature of the play adds to its suspense. Magician Paul Daniels helped create the illusions and it becomes hard not to cower at the slightest knock or creak in the darkness. As the audience moves towards the auditorium, the sense of dread increases. We know it’s just a play, but will we all get out alive?
Scary, funny and rude in equal measure, Dead of Night is a well put–together production with engaging performances from the small cast. The clever use of the theatre’s rooms adds to the show, removing audience members from their seats to put them right into the action.
l Dead of Night runs until Saturday, May 2. Tickets cost £20 and can be bought by calling the box office on 0118 969 6039 or at www.millat sonning.com