It's Strictly Murder at The Grove
First night of gripping thriller at Dunstable venue.
IT wasn't Nick Barclay's fault that he had the misfortune to be born next to Watford's football ground and not Kenilworth Road but that unsavoury fact has had an unsettling influence on his whole career.
The tall swarthy actor is everyone's favourite baddie and in much demand come panto season.
He's also done more than his fair share of who-dunnits on the British stage, appearing in tours of Strangers On The Train and Intent To Murder at Dunstable's Grove Theatre.
But Nick's more complicated than that. You're never quite sure whether he's as evil as first painted.
In Strictly Murder, which opened at The Grove on Thursday, the signs were against him from the start.
Brian Clemens' clever thriller had the audience doubting Barclay's rather shady character, artist Peter Meredith, but were they right?
This appeared to be a man with way too many skeletons in his cupboard.
But when is a murder mystery ever that simple ?
Clemens only wrote Strictly Murder three years ago but it was set in April 1939 as Hitler was preparing to launch his invasion of Europe.
This enabled the writer to pitch in the Nazis as potential bad guys and to set the story at a time of high tension when you were never sure who was friend or ally.
Meredith lived in isolation in the French countryside – we knew this because there were onions hanging in the kitchen and berets on the coat-rack. There was also a couple of bottles of Chteau Latour which the artist and his live-in girlfriend, Suzy, were saving for a rainy day.
The drama opened with a suspicious-looking chap, armed with a rifle and beret, lurking outside the cottage window. He entered the house, scoffed whatever food he could find and left.
This was a pretty odd start and it re-enforced the fact that if this couple had only kept their door locked the whole story may never have unfurled and the play would have been seriously abridged.
The mystery stranger turned out to be a simpleton neighbour and was just one piece of a complicated puzzle that eventually dragged in treachery, murder, torture, a web of lies and deceit and the shameful waste of a 500 bottle of wine in bumping off a nasty Nazi.
This was one of the best thrillers to come to The Grove in a long time with plenty of red herrings and an intelligent storyline that kept you gripped from beginning to end . It sprinted along with sharp, pacey dialogue that only now and again drifted as the characters indulged in wordy exposition.
There were fine performances from Nick Barclay, Katie Funk as Suzy, and David Rumelle as the rather addled Joseph.
The always watchable TV and stage actor Mark Moraghan was under-used as Ross even if he did get two bites of the apple.
The charismatic star of The Bill, Heartbeat, Brookside and just about every other TV soap you can name appeared to be a public-school educated copper – but was that all ?
A warm welcome back to high class drama at The Grove.
Strictly Murder runs until Saturday (June 20). For tickets call the box office 01582 602080 or go online www.grovetheatre.co.uk
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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