DeeDee Doke reviews A Small Family Murder

A Small Family Murder
by Simon Brett
performed by Waterbeach Theatre Company
directed by Julie Petrucci


Did Mrs Trevelyan die by accident? Or murder? Or was it suicide?

Viewers are tantalised by three, possibly four seemingly viable options in determining how the lady died in the intriguing one-act play, A Small Family Murder, staged by Waterbeach Theatre Company (WTC) in November.

Originally created by playwright Simon Brett as a tour-de-force opportunity for one actor to play three different characters, a father and two sons, WTC chose the more interesting route of developing the story through three different actors with a fourth providing narrative glue as a briefly seen police officer. With a playing time of just under an hour, the minutes sped by as the three key figures in the drama took turns to make their cases for innocence in the death of the wife and mother.

The late Mrs Trevelyan was suffering from cancer at the time of her death and living in a care home. First introduced is the louche, bon vivant and high-spending younger son Gavin (Chip Colquhoun). Gavin has been living abroad and presents himself as having had a close relatonship with his mother but sharing little common ground with elder brother Miles (James Dowson). The stern and steely Miles, a solicitor, has little use for Gavin and considers himself the responsible son. The last in this trio is Lionel Trevelyan (Tim Boden), a previously brilliant lawyer who has lapsed into dementia and was put into care before his wife became ill.

Each man tells his side of the story in police interviews, with one confiding a back story that twists the conflicting tales around and about, leading the audience to question any solution that may have seemed possible.

The script is clever, dropping hints here and there that there's much more to find out about these characters and the familial situation than we will ever know. An example of such trickery was a line said by son Gavin, in which he interrupts himself, which had me initially wondering whether it was a line glitch or a clue.

The more the two sons talk about how different they are from each other, the more similarities reveal themselves. At the same time, do we know who they really are?

Tightly directed by Julie Petrucci, the action was played against austere settings, suitable for police interviewing rooms and a common room in a care room with costumes expressing the public face of each character - a leather jacket for Gavin, a smart suit for Miles and the easy, stay-at-home wear of one with time on his hands for Lionel.

Colquhoun and Dowson's characters were tautly etched, eyes giving away more than words or body movement with a refreshing economy of 'stage business'.

Boden's role as the dementia-riddled (or is he)? father whose mental decline appears to have been the catalyst for the resulting intrigue and extraordinary cross-double cross-triple cross gives this actor the most chance to have fun and reveal a variety of different character shadings. We the audience understand that this old lion remains a wily beast who may well outsmart and outlive everyone.

Christine Easterfield gave a crisp, no-nonsense performance as the police detective, redirecting our attention to the latest interviewee.

This production's spareness of excess and focus on the essentials delivered a lip-smackingly satisfying evening of mystery and whodunnit/whodunwhattowho. A dark gem!

DeeDee Doke.
NODA East, Assistant Regional Representative District 4S

Waterbeach Theatre Company
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Waterbeach School
Cambridge CB25 9JU

Phone: 01223 880023

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