The Unexpected Guest
The People's Theatre
17th Jan 2017
Somewhere in the remote welsh countryside wreathed in fog, a man blunders into a house seeking help. Lost in the fog he has run his car into a ditch and sought out the nearest house to beg use of a telephone and possibly a bed for the night. Unfortunately for him the house he finds is the scene of a very recent murder...
The scene is set - a fog of dry ice hangs in the air in the auditorium, on stage a room in darkness, a figure in an invalid chair silhouetted against the dim light from French windows. Someone knocks at a door, a voice calls out and a figure appears entering tentatively shining a torch into the room and speaking to the person in the chair. When no response is forthcoming he shines the torch at the person asking if he is asleep...he gasps and scrabbles to find a light switch. the man in the chair is dead, and in the corner stands a woman holding a pistol.
And so begins The Unexpected Guest begins. Richard Warwick has been murdered. His wife confesses to the unexpected guest but instead of phoning for the police he helps her establish an alibi and comes up with a plan to blame the murder on an old enemy. We have no idea why he would do this. he has no connection to the family - he seems simply taken with the beauty of the lady of the house and opts to help her. The alibi is set, the rest of the house are roused to discover the grisly murder and the police are called. In the morning each member of the household is called to account for their whereabouts at the time of the murder. Questioned by Inspector Thomas it becomes apparent that everyone in the household knows something more than they are telling.
The audience has the advantage of knowing that the story given by Laura Warwick and Michael Starkwedder (the unexpected guest) is a complete fabrication, and little by little we discover that Laura's confession is also false (that's not really a spoiler it is clear she is covering for someone, again, the question is who?). So who in the household is the murderer? Everyone has a motive, Richard Warwick it is revealed was a despicable and cruel man, spoilt by his life of privilege and further ruined by the accident that took away that privileged life.
The characters one by one reveal their hands, the blackmailer, the lover, the all knowing "loyal" retainer, the downtrodden and the diminished family members. Each one played beautifully, revealing just as much or as little as needed to keep the audience guessing. Red herrings and false trails abound, and Inspector Thomas methodically works his way through the evidence - you feel certain that he will eventually unearth the truth. His doggedness is complemented by the the poetic Sargent Cadwallader. Steve Hewitt and Richard Gardner are a delight throughout, playing the two policemen systematically providing the audience with information, highlighting clues, revealing motives, illuminating character and background.
Other standout performances for me were Sam Hinton as the mysterious, unexpected guest Michael Starkwedder and Callum Mawston as the ingenuous, childlike Jan Warwick, though all the performances were well played and convincing. Jess Chapman and Vanessa Aiken have produced a tense mystery which leaves the audience guessing throughout. Excellent.
The Unexpected Guest is visiting The People's Theatre until Sat 21st Jan.
Photographs courtesy of Paula Smart