Monday, 23 September 2019

Review: Towards Zero, Mill at Sonning

Review: Towards Zero, Mill at Sonning

Towards Zero | Mill at Sonning | Thursday, August 8

BRIAN BLESSED’S back in the middle of the River Thames and we can be in no doubt about it.

His production of Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero is straight from this veteran’s school of life: big, brash, loud and often over the top.

No surprises there, that’s what we sign up for with the Blessed legend.

And to make sure it happens he has again employed his family to further the message with his wife Hildegard Neil taking the role of cantankerous Lady Tressillian and his daughter Rosalind Blessed playing the housekeeper and companion, Mary Aldin.

Rosalind, particularly, has a voice which will brook no compromise; every line is emitted at volume 11, every syllable enunciated.

Hers is the equivalent of a 200-watt amplifier in a 20-watt venue, but that’s obviously what the director wants — although the other actors kept a lower vocal profile. In fairness, it was probably a prerequisite of growing up in the Blessed household that you had to speak up — how else would you be heard?

Hildegard Neil brings some very welcome old school theatre acting to the Mill: yes, she pushes it out, but her lines are nuanced in a way which would sound natural in a living room or the Royal Albert Hall.

So with these two guarding the Blessed tradition the rest can get on with it.

This is the director’s fourth summer season at the Mill — and if the programme is a guide it may be his last. He says it “completes my quartet of Agatha Christie plays”, so we should make the most of it while we can.

And there is a lot to be enjoyed: we don’t get a dead body until halfway through and then it’s not who we expect.

We have three people on the verge of arrest before the final denouement, and if the plot’s a tad convoluted it doesn’t get in the way.

The title comes from a sly dig in the script against a contemporary crime writer of Christie’s time, Edgar Wallace. Actually it doesn’t make a lot of sense but it doesn’t distract and we enjoyed the digs.

It wouldn’t be a Brian Blessed Christie production without the odd rumble of thunder and flash of lightning, but here they’re part of the script — well, some of them are — and you can’t help wondering if the great dame was sending herself up.

As for the story: it’s the classic Agatha Christie template, posh people walking in and out of a very smart house where a murder takes place.

This late Christie play, co-written with Gerald Verner, upgrades the investigator from inspector to superintendent and has a solicitor taking a lead detective role.

It was good to welcome back Bethan Nash to the Mill playing the histrionic and spoiled Kay.

Given the over the top parameters she made it work well — and what a contrast from her stunning Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady 20 months ago.

Noel White as the solicitor Matthew Treves is also a Mill favourite, and with good reason.

And fast becoming one is Kate Tydman as Audrey — her final scene was almost a replica of the one played in The Unexpected Guest last year.

So, Christie fans will love it, Brian Blessed fans will love it. That should be enough.

Until September 28.

Mike Rowbottom

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