DTR - Reviews of Cards on the Table

Cards on the Table

Mon 5th – Wed 7th December 2011

reviews

Danny Coleman-Cooke

at 01:34 on 6th Dec 2011

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As we count down the days to Christmas, we all need some warmth and excitement in our lives as the deadlines start to pile up. What better way, then, to spend a freezing cold Monday night than a good old-fashioned murder mystery? Cards on the Table does not stray too far from the Agatha Christie murder mystery template; an eccentric collector is found dead at his bridge party, leaving Superintendent Battle and two amateur sleuths (sans Poirot) to lead an intriguing and elaborate search for the murderer. Collingwood’s dining room was transformed into a murder scene for a compelling performance from their Woodplayers, which displayed many more aces than flops.

The acting was of a high quality throughout, with a variety of solid and nuanced performances on display throughout what was essentially a large ensemble cast. It is difficult to pick out individuals for this reason; however there were definitely a few grand slam (bridge joke, sorry) performances. Harriet Tarpy was wonderfully ditzy and vulnerable as the hapless Anne Meredith, whilst Georgie Glen put in an emotive and impressive performance as Anne’s friend Rhoda in her first Durham theatre outing. I commented on how fresher Elissa Churchill had several fine roles ahead of her after her show-stealing performance in Pirates of Penzance last week, but even I was surprised to see her in another play just a few days later! Nonetheless, her performance as the suave and secretive Mrs. Lorrimer could not be faulted, showing impressive characterisation as well as a seemingly endless range of haughty glances and icy facial expressions.

As the above comments suggest, I found that the female performances slightly edged out their male counterparts, although Gareth Davies shone as the unfortunate murder victim, despite his limited stage time before he met his untimely end. Jamie Kitson’s cunning superintendent also appeared to grow into the character as the play progressed, excelling during the tense finale, although his delivery was a touch fast in places.

Christie’s literary style means that there is often the risk of characters becoming stereotypical and although the performances were generally strong across the board, the characterisations of Major Despard and Colonel Race (both supposed to be dashing figures) at times felt slightly under-developed, especially for a murder mystery where are we supposed to be hanging on each character’s every move. The age differential between the characters could perhaps have also been made clearer to the audience (I didn’t realise that Mrs. Lorrimer was significantly older than Ms. Meredith until it was explicitly mentioned), although this is admittedly a challenge for student productions.

Minor quibbles aside, the show was a triumph for director Lucy Concannon, whose staging was clever throughout, with an intimate yet also elaborate stage being fully and wisely used to add to the mystique of the production. The period-specific costumes and props showed an impressive level of attention to detail, with probably the best selection of headwear I’ve seen in a Durham production! The excellent staging helped to create a fittingly cool and cosy atmosphere, in which presumably only the sensitive dining hall fire alarms prevented most of the audience from lighting a pipe and ordering a crème de cassis.

The accents, which are the frequent scourge of college productions, were highly impressive and the whole cast displayed energy throughout, meaning that the production never sagged throughout the play’s many twists and turns. Despite my very minor criticisms (which could easily be explained by first night nerves), Cards on the Table provided a thoroughly engaging and entertaining evening, with an impressive level of acting talent and directorial flair on display. This show certainly deserves a wider audience than the small but keen bunch who were there tonight, so if you want to give your detective skills a workout then get yourself down to Collingwood - you’ll certainly see some killer performances.

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Amy Peters

at 09:06 on 6th Dec 2011

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As an Agatha Christie fanatic, I was always going to be a hard reviewer to impress. However, the Collingwood Woodplayers’ production of Cards on the Table – one of the most intricate webs Christie has ever weaved – certainly reassured me that her genius can be portrayed through wonderful actors other than David Suchet (oh my!).

Cards on the Table centres around a dinner party hosted by the enigmatic – and charmingly portrayed – Mr Shaitana, and a game of bridge (the rules of which still escape me). Mr Shaitana suspects four of his dinner guests of each committing a murder, so, naturally, he invites a Detective, a Colonel (a somewhat perplexing and, dare I say it, unnecessary character) and a successful crime writer to dinner too, just to mix things up a bit. When Mr Shaitana is murdered in the presence of all seven guests, each one immediately becomes a suspect in Detective Battle’s inquiries. And so ensues two hours of the mesmerising sleuthing so characteristic of Christie’s writing.

Although played to a small audience, this was used to good effect, resulting in an intimate rather than sparse or empty feeling to the performance. The set design was impressive, with seamless changes between scenes; there was an air of professionalism that I had not been expecting at an all-student production. However, my biggest commendations to the back-stage staff must go to the Costume Designers – Kate Rickson, Bee Oczan and Christelle Dahinden – I may be biased (I love a man in a suit), but these beautiful costumes contributed so much to such a believable leap back in time.

All acting was at an impressive standard, but Sian Green’s portrayal of Mrs Oliver was stand-out. I felt something lacking in the scenes her character didn’t feature in, and found myself sitting up straighter in my seat whenever her presence graced the stage. Gareth Davies’ Mr Shaitana had a similar effect, though due to his character’s untimely end we didn’t have the opportunity to see nearly enough of his obvious charm; I would certainly want to see both Green and Davies in other productions.

Overall, a truly enjoyable evening. I genuinely LOL-ed at one point – an impressive feat by the cast, as Christie’s work normally has me furrowing my brow in utter bafflement, rather than laughing out loud. It’s a shame that so few people turned out to enjoy it on it’s opening night, though I hope that more people take advantage of a competent performance of an excellent play right on our doorstep.

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