Æ Review – Agatha Christie’s The Hollow

Nov 27 2009 | By More


Adam House
Review by Thom Dibdin

There is nothing sleepy about the Hollow to which the Angkatells have retired in this country house weekend murder mystery from the Makars, which is at Adam House until Saturday.

At least there’ll be no dozing when family friend and Harley Street doctor John Cristow comes down for the weekend, to join Sir Henry, Lady Lucy and young Henrietta, a successful sculptor.

A scene from Sleepy Hollow. Pic: The Makars

Cristow might arrive with dim but dependable wife Gerda – but it quickly becomes clear that cousin Henrietta knows him rather more intimately than she should, while the famous American movie star who has taken up residence in a cottage down the road turns out to be Cristow’s lost true love.

As Cristow, Derek Melon creates the kind of arrogance that is in love with intellectual abstracts, not the real thing. Just as he is intrigued by his patient’s illnesses, not his patients, he is in love with what these women have to offer him, not who they are.

If Melon doesn’t quite have the romantic panache to convince that all these arty types would naturally fall at his feet, then his arrogance is enough to make the construction of the plot believable.

Meanwhile another guest, ineffectual cousin Edward, is in love with Henrietta. A love which Lady Lucy would like to see come to marriage so as to keep the family line going.


Which means that when Cristow is bumped off, both Edward and Lucy are going to be in the frame – not to mention lovers current, spurned or slighted.

It’s a set-up which demands more than a frisson of sexual tension. Without tearing bodices or anything quite so obvious, sex does need to suffuse the whole show.

A scene from Sleepy Hollow. Pic: The Makars

While Beatrice Cant makes a believably headstrong Henrietta, she doesn’t quite have that horsy sensuality the landed English classes find so attractive. In fact, the only real sexual tension is rather muted and comes from Irene Beldon as young cousin Midge, the final member of the party who pines for Edward’s love.

The success of Agatha Christie whodunits relies on a number of elements. The set-up has to be believable and entertaining, the sleuthing has to jiggle the grey cells and the resolution needs to provide some convincing twists.

To be fair to the Makars, they get the first and last of these elements more or less right.

Danny Henderson is blundering enough as Sir Henry, although you wouldn’t see him as the civil servant who would have been running India if the “damn socialists hadn’t split up the Empire”. He does what is necessary for the plot but not a lot more.

Jean Henderson provides better value as Lady Lucy. She conveys the sort of dottiness that is based on a calculated – and often Machiavellian – understanding of events. If others don’t understand her, it is because they aren’t paying attention. Although actually being able to hear her speak is sometimes a problem as her voice level drops.

A scene from Sleepy Hollow. Pic: The Makars

Martin Burnell as Gudgeon the butler and Helen McMillan as Doris the maid also put in strong turns. Burnell, in particular, helps create the rarified atmosphere of the ruling class in their decline in post-war Britain.

Anne Trotter could add a touch more glamour and purring arrogance to her creation of Veronica Craye, the Hollywood star in the cottage next door. Dario Dalla Costa as Edward and Tina Courtier as Gerda Cristow also put in sufficient performances that don’t mock the plot.

There is fun to be had here and director Sheila Clarke lets her cast have it. As she does in the twisting, turning final act. She and her cast have easily done enough with the red herrings and character faults to ensure that the solution is not clear.

It is in that troubled middle section – when the police are called in – that things fall apart.

In the script, Inspector Colquhoun comes across as a smooth operator with a sense of style while DS Penny is a yokel sidekick adept in unburdening young under-maids of their secrets. In Jurg Denzler and Graham Espin’s hands, however, there is no such finesse.

Instead of shining an illuminating light on the various suspects, they hinder the plot as it tries to snake smoothly past. Casting the other way round might have improved matters considerably but Denzler, in particular, needs to find more of a character.

With a broadly satisfactory set and some nicely accurate performances, this proves an amiable evening out that has rather more potential than it realises.

Run ends Saturday

Makars website.

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