8 August 2022
When it comes to plotting a multi-layered thriller, they don’t come much better than Francis Durbridge and he remains popular, not least at the Sidmouth Summer Play Festival, where big audiences are the order of the day. Best known as a writer of radio and TV serials, he only produced a handful of plays for the stage; The Gentle Hook was first performed in 1974.
The stage thriller has been undergoing something of a revival; ‘The Perfect Murder’ by Peter James is a much more recent example of the genre and was seen at the start of the year’s season and in comparison, Durbridge’s writing feels rather dated. The dialogue is often awkward and clumsy – continual use of character names in conversation is so unnatural; it is a challenge for director and actors to bring the very wordy script to life.
Stacey Harrison is a smart woman who is facing a divorce and, via a series of extraordinary events, finds herself caught up in murder, forgery and corruption – convoluted as it is, the writer gradually draws the audience into the story. The opening exposition is very lengthy as the story is set up, but slowly the strands of the plot are laid out for the audience to try and assess, not whodunnit, but whether any of the characters are who they say they are; as in any thriller many appear to have something to hide.
David Janson works hard to build the tension at the appropriate moments and keep the action going and he is well served by the cast. Emily Outred excels as Stacey; travelling the gamut of emotions and shouldering the bulk of the action. James Pellow provides solid support as Brad and finds the humour from the script effortlessly. Strong performances are also offered by Cameron Robertson as Stacey’s rather charmless husband, Jimmy Chamberlain as Stacey’s friendly work associate Alan and Brendan Matthew as the ebullient Gerald. Paul Hutton is really good as the no-nonsense policeman as is Kay Crome as the nosey Mother-in-Law.
It is difficult not to become amused by the number of telephone calls and doorbell rings in the play – it seems to be another motif of this writer.
Durbridge scripts have not aged well and it’s a challenge to bring off effective productions which will have a wide appeal, so praise for this one which goes a long way to achieve this. While this type of thriller isn’t to everyone’s taste, for those many Durbridge fans out there, this is one to indulge yourself in.
CAST & CREATIVES
STACEY HARRISON – EMILY OUTRED
BRAD MORRIS – JAMES PELLOW
ALAN KYLE – JIMMY CHAMBERLAIN
PHILIP HARRISON – CAMERON ROBERTSON
GERALD WADDINGTON – BRENDAN MATTHEW
LENNOX – PAUL HUTTON
MADGE HARRISON – KAY CROME
WRITER – FRANCIS DURBRIDGE
DIRECTOR – DAVID JANSON
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – JOE UNDERWOOD
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
PHOTOGRAPHY – DANIEL SAINT
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS
SEASON PRODUCER – CLAIRE EVANS