Night Must Fall by Emlyn Williams – The Original Theatre Company – New Wolsey Theatre till Saturday then touring
Everybody likes a good murder – that is the premise on which thriller writers such as Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock based their work – and the line that Emlyn Williams took when writing Night Must Fall in 1934.
Williams was a prolific writer as well as being a professional actor – and much of his work embodies his fascination for crime and the character of murderers in particular. Based on a real life case – Night Must Fall is not a murder mystery as such – since it is pretty obvious from the start who the murderer is. This is more a physiological thriller that looks at the motivations of the murderer and the calculations behind the crime – while winding the audience up to believe something even more terrible is about to happen.
This was of course written for an audience who were not so sophisticated in their tastes and who had yet to be exposed to the wide variety and technological advances of entertainment today. So these plays can seem very dated and clichéd. The Original Theatre Company specialise in bringing these plays back to the theatres – and I must admit I hadn’t been impressed with their last offering of Terrance Rattigan’s Flare Path last year which seemed very stilted and wooden.
With this play they have tried a lot harder to get pace into the production and to make the characters a bit more believable while keeping them firmly in their time period – which helped to bring the right atmosphere to the piece and yet make sure the action didn’t drag.
The play is set in the isolated house of elderly and infirm Mrs Branson – beautifully played by Gwen Taylor – where her niece Olivia ( Niamh McGrady) is spending an enforced period of employment as her companion – visited every day by would be beau Hubert – played with delectable boringness by Alistair Buchan. Into their lives comes Dan – the cocky bell hop from the hotel down the road who has made the house maid pregnant – and comes right on the heels of a body being found in the grounds – but who charms his way into the old lady’s affections and is taken on by her as her second companion. Williams wrote the part of Dan for himself – and he is the most interesting character – playing with both the family and the audience as to his motivations and desires. Will Featherstone was maybe a little over the top with his portrayal – but held the stage and kept the pace going.
As for the rest of the cast – there is of course the inevitable Inspector – but here he does little more than to move the investigation along, and a Nurse and a Cook who bring a little more humour to the piece. The plot follows an inevitable path – and there are no real surprises in the outcome.
The set is a beautiful and workable rendition of the front room of the house where all the action takes place. The stage area is used well – so not too much acting behind the sofa – and there is plenty of movement to keep the pace going.
Obviously in spite of the company name there is nothing ‘original’ here. Some of the more tense scenes are built up quite nicely – but you won’t find any moments that give a modern audience shivers up the spine.
That said – this is a nice neat portrayal of a classic play – and if you like that sort of thing you will not be disappointed with this.