Present Murder


Agatha Christie and Ronn Morris

Cast & Crew
Peter Buck Dettman; Aaron Ward; Jane Seynour;
Jenna Martin; Louise Harding; Ian Nicholson;
Ros Bilbe; Isla Borrell; Rickard Roach.
Hecate - Design

Roz Riley - Director

Review of Present Murder by Brad Skye in Aussie Stage
(Star of the Sea Theatre, Manly 11th November 2008)

“Artistic director, Roz Riley, is, clearly, very comfortable in this, rather traditional, territory. Traditional shouldn't be construed as in any way pejorative: a straight play can be thoroughly enjoyable and, more than that, edifying;”
“Christie's writing is always pithy, with a delicious sense of the comic, amidst the tragic; with her characters, it seems, always buffoonish, in just the right measure. Morris, while teetering on showy self-indulgence, has done a wonderful job of matching the undersung, naughty, sometimes haughty, wit of Christie; (one of her descriptions of a cat, as 'malice, in fur', being an apt case-in-point.)
However, the key scene, while relating to a motif present in the first play, proved a little laboured and was, in the washup, superfluous.
The Rats is, essentially, a study in human self-interest, if not malignant narcissism. It points to larger, political themes, such as how expedient even human lives can be, if their despatch should assist certain parties in weaving a protective web of lies: clearly, not something lacking topicality. It employs Christie's fascination with antiquities, especially those from Egypt (the sinister, all-seeing centrepiece, on stage, is a likeness of Bastet, the cat-goddess), her apparent favouring of a form of karmic justice and propensity to bury a clue in a quote. As with her novels, one's full attention is rewarded.
Marisa Newnes has made good on suitably refined, upper-crust English costumery; Hecate evoking just enough mood with stage design. More drama might've been possible, from lighting designer, Jon Tidswell, but was achieved by Simeon Barlow's sound design. Technical production was notably slick: thanks to Sophie Whincop's stage management and the lighting/sound operators”
Pete Buck-Dettmann (whose name is ripe to be appropriated directly into this ilk) was, for mine, 'man-of-the-match', as the conflicted, bitter, dysfunctional, high-camp Hugo, brother to Emmeline & Jennifer. He imbued his character with the requisite tension: a tug-o'-war between believability and double-smoked ham. The result is, to paraphrase the play, delectably tragicomic. Aaron Ward makes a robust fist as Benjamin Whitfield, an opportunistic philanderer; aspirant of wealth, position and status. He is, perhaps, the sauciest Egyptologist the field has ever known. His apparent nerves settled down and didn't affect the uniformity of his performance. Jenna Martin, as nurse and treacherous confidant, Cecily Bond, is convincing and, practically, flawless. Isla Borrell, who tends towards very mannered speech & physical performance, has found a fitting home in the sisterly character of Emmeline Ross, jilted former lover.
Jane E. Seymour, similarly, has found the right shoe, in the form of Sandra Gray, widow of Michael, who she threw over, Gordon Wood-style, for second hubby, John, who she cheated on, with Benjamin. It is, if you will, a sordid kind of 'The House That Jack Built'; an exaggerated comic device which, I think, typifies the playful mischief Ms Christie so relished. With the exception of one confession scene, which could've and should've been played much larger, her performance is a veritable study in plays and acting of this vintage. Ros Bilbe's qualities make for a persuasive portrayal of sleuthish Doctor Ginsberg. The alleged Ian Nicholson, if he isn't a cop, ought to be, as he has the stature, carriage and flat demeanour down pat, as manifest in his amusing portrayal of the wily Inspector Cray. His only real flaw was an uncertain accent.” The minor players: Bastet, the Patient, brother William and secretary Brenda varied in quality of performance, sometimes letting the accents drift or lacking the intensity needed.
Thoughts on Present Murder by author Helga McNamara
It was good to see a fair size audience..
I loved the black dress on Jane (Seymour) in the first act. She gave an energetic and nuanced performance.
I couldn't believe that was Aaaron (Ward). last time I saw him he had such an ocker voice and played a real Aussie. It is good to see a flexible actor - very sexy in both.
I rather liked Rickard Roach playing Bill, the brother.
The set looked good.
re the play from Maureen Miner (PhD clinical psychologist):
We all enjoyed it very much. I liked the set for its simplicity and 1920s/30s feel.
The three plays worked very well together - they merged well and made it extended fun. As usual, the acting was strong.
In the beginning it was hard to hear some of the actors (they didn't seem to be projecting their voices very much) but this was not a problem after a while.
I loved watching the expressions on the Jane Seymour in the first play: she stayed wonderfully in character. It made the first act very taut, and the metaphor of the mousetrap was very much felt (as well as intellectually noted). The maid/companion was suitably more subdued, but sufficiently developed to make the ending believable. The scenes with the wheelchair were fun - I guess the later acts were more melodramatic.. I think the women actors dominated. None of the men were particularly sinister, or feisty,but they did all that was needed for the plot.
Present Murder - photographed by John Reeves