Friday, 19 October 2018

Tale of intrigue and peril is anything but plane sailing

CONTINUING its murder mystery month, Windsor’s Theatre Royal brings us a suspense-filled tale of intrigue and peril in its production

CONTINUING its murder mystery month, Windsor’s Theatre Royal brings us a suspense-filled tale of intrigue and peril in its production of Francis Durbridge’s The Small Hours.

Hotelier Carl Houston (Simon Dutton) is on a flight returning to the UK from Sydney when his neighbouring passenger, Ronnie Sheldon (Dean Gaffney), introduces himself and strikes up a conversation.

In the impressively realistic confined space of their aeroplane seats, they have a brief dialogue about such Aussie staples as the koala bear (of which more later) and a mutual friend, Harry Scottsdale, but the travel chat is rudely and dramatically interrupted by a hijacking attempt.

The action then moves to Carl’s hotel in Chichester, where his wife Vanessa (Carol Royle) nurses him as he recovers, having sustained damage to his shoulder.

It transpires that Carl had inadvertently saved Ronnie by dragging him unconscious from the plane.

Enter policeman George Westwood (aptly played by The Bill’s Graham Cole), who comes along with a line of questioning about Harry Scottsdale and some sort of heist and doesn’t seem to think Carl is being entirely upfront.

Then an indebted Ronnie returns to thank Carl for saving his life, but warns him he is in grave danger.

Throw in Carl’s cousin, international businessman Oliver (Mark Wingett, also of The Bill), financially challenged chef Bernard (Mark Curry), stressed, long-suffering wife Millie (Georgina Leonidas), and not forgetting highly capable Ruth (Deborah Grant), who really keeps the place running smoothly, and the stage is set for blackmail, death threats and gunfire.

There is some talk that there may be a cuddly toy koala in Carl’s flight bag, but it was lost with the plane after the hijack.

It becomes apparent that it may not have been so cuddly after all.

As the storylines of each person unravel, a number of questions are thrown up in the air...

Why does chef Bernard think businessman Oliver will hand over the cash?

What is Ronnie’s modus operandi, is he a good guy or a bad guy?

And just what is the significance of the koala bear?

With fabulous effects — including a thunderstorm in the small hours with impeccable timing — and well-paced acting, we greatly enjoyed this production.

It was great to see lots of familiar faces from TV play well in their different roles, with quality acting so that this familiarity wasn’t distracting.

The whole thing felt a bit like a rollercoaster — not least because members of the audience “oohed” and “aahed” and tried to solve the mystery, detective-style, as more facts were revealed.

Until Saturday.

Review: Natalie Aldred

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