The Hollow

February 7, 2020 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆   Stately

Church Hill Theatre: Thurs 6–Sat 8Feb 2020
Review by Hugh Simpson

Huge care and attention has gone into the staging of Threepenny Theatricals’ version of Agatha Christie’s The Hollow. That care, however, does mean that there is a definite absence of energy in a production that never outstays its welcome but frequently threatens to.

This, naturally enough, is a well enough constructed country-house whodunnit, with plenty of possible suspects and misdirection. It does, however, betray its origins as a novel (one that featured Poirot, who was taken out of the stage version because Christie apparently felt he ruined it).

Rebekah Lansley and Dorothy Johnstone. Pic Ross Main

There are huge swathes of undramatic dialogue – characters constantly telling each other things they already know, and great lumps of exposition. At one point there is even an onstage phone conversation which seems to take five minutes when its substance could have been conveyed in one line of dialogue.

All of this makes it unconscionably long – modern audiences are always going to baulk at three hours’ worth of detective drama. A second half that takes ninety minutes, when the likes of Mark Williams’s incarnation of Father Brown could polish off two separate cases in that time, is far too long for Poirot’s rather unprepossessing replacements to potter about doing surprisingly little.

What does not help in this production is the severe lack of pace. All of the cast enunciate very beautifully and clearly in those cut-glass accents we would expect from the genre, but this does come at the expense of speed, and the whole thing is decidedly stately, not to say glacial.

splendidly oily lothario

This is not really the fault of the cast or director Fiona Main. That dialogue, full of monologues that would work fine as character development in a novel but just slow things up here, never really gets going. There are moments when it suddenly goes up a notch, and they tend to feature Main herself as sculptor Henrietta Angkatell, one of a set of distant cousins of a family of landed gentry.

Fiona Main and Simon Boothroyd. Pic Ross Main

When Main is in conversation with Larry Weil’s splendidly oily lothario Dr John Cristow (who we are all willing to be the murder victim a good hour before anyone has the manners to finally get killed) there is a definite frisson. And there is a brief scene with Main and the impressive Rebekah Lansley as young Midge, another distant cousin, where there is little of import to the plot being discussed, but suddenly the pace is ratcheted up and it all seems to mean a great deal more. But then the scene is over as quickly as it has begun and we are back to the previous slow progress.

The other performances are fine in themselves, even if there are far too many characters for comfort. Simon Boothroyd’s rather pompous diplomat Sir Henry and Dorothy Johnstone as his wife Lucy, whose seeming absent-mindedness may conceal a more calculating nature, are full of life. Elspeth Whyte gives Cristow’s put-upon wife Gerda believability, while Ian Lawson’s butler Gudgeon is a well judged comic turn – which can also be said for Gillian Robertson’s maid Doris.

Baffled dignity

Judith Neeson has the difficult job of portraying a magnetic Hollywood star in Cristow’s old flame Veronica, and she does it with real style and presence. At the other end of the charisma scale comes Edward Angkatell, a self-confessed bore and non-entity, but John Bruce gives him a stolid charm that is rather appealing.

The two police officers are less than fascinating creations, but Scott Thomson’s Inspector Colquhoun retains a baffled dignity, while David Snoddy gives Sergeant Penny’s cheeky-chappy larking about some degree of plausibility.

Rebekah Lansley, Simon Boothroyd and John Bruce. Pic Ross Main

A so often, Christie seems less interested in the less well-off characters, and even though there are a couple of remarks that could be taken as political, this story largely takes place in that Neverland where it is always teatime, the butler will bring sandwiches and murder may be fatal but is rarely serious.

There is a good deal of ingenuity to the plot, but it takes a long time getting there. Such extreme length also means there is more scope for things to go wrong, and Fiona Main’s set – highly impressive as it is – does prove recalcitrant at times.

Technically, however, the production is largely very impressive, and the standard of performance means that it hangs together pretty well.

Running time: Three hours (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10, 4DR
Thursday 6 – Saturday 8 February 2020
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here
Threepenny Theatricals website: https://www.threepenny-theatricals.org
Facebook: @3pennytheatre
Twitter: @3penny_theatre

David Snoddy, Scott Thomson and Rebekah Lansley. Pic Ross Main

ENDS

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