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Hampshire/Berkshire border: murder with more twists and turns than a corkscrew

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Boundary Players: A Party to Murder at the William Penney Theatre, Tadley, from Wednesday, November 17 to Saturday, November 20. Review by DEREK ANSELL

After a lengthy spell of inactivity as Covid brought almost everything to a standstill, Boundary Players returned to the stage with a thriller that had more twists and turns than you could get with a corkscrew.

A Party To Murder by Marcia Kash and Douglas E Hughes is a mystery drama in the Agatha Christie mode and it was not by accident that a portrait of her was in a prominent position on the set. Even the set-up and plot were typical Christie; six friends, three male, three female, meet up at an old house on an island in the middle of a lake in North America. They are seen enjoying a séance together in the evening, but soon after strange things start to happen and murder and mayhem follow.

Boundary Players A Party to Murder
Boundary Players A Party to Murder

Everything is not as it seems, however, and the play builds up to a totally unexpected but fascinating conclusion.

A tricky play like this needs a good standard of ensemble acting, a steady, natural pace and atmospheric lighting and sound effects – oh yes, and a touch of comedy to lighten the gloom. Boundary Players scored top marks in all departments. Neil Pagden was a smooth, urbane Charles and Stephen Holcomb a convincingly brusque Willy. Louisa Spencer impressed as McKenzie and Emily Browne did well as Henri, jittery and nervous until late on, when she had to change character. Lydia Stubbins was Valery, portrayed effectively as calm and, mostly, in control. Steve Scholler had fun in the part of Elwood, ostensibly the villain of the piece. When Elwood is murdered later and hung on a hook with a knife in his chest, Willy claims to the others that they are ‘all off the hook now. Unlike Elwood’. After that there is more murder and the plot becomes ever more complicated.

What really impressed about this stylish thriller though, was the neat ensemble acting, in pairs, singles or as a group.All six actors were faultless, working together, keeping the pace moving, with good stage movement and not bumping into the furniture once. All except Charles, the solitary Englishman, had to present American accents and they were all convincing.

Colin Webb’s direction was unobtrusive, which is another way of saying it was very good.

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