Chris Avery reviews Portrait of Murder

Portrait of Murder
by Robert Bloomfield
performed by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by Jane Stewart

It's a nightmare situation - you've had an accident, lost your memory as a result, spent the last 10 months in hospital, and now you're back home - except that the house is unfamiliar, you don't recognise anyone, not even your husband or your best friend, and you have no idea of what happened to make your life up until now a complete blank. But then things get even worse as your friends, in response to your pleading, hesitantly begin to tell you the events of that fateful day, and the picture of you that emerges is most unpleasant. Could your portrait, which still hangs above the fireplace, possibly show you in your true light?

Paula Barlow (Christine Easterfield), a rich and famous author, finds herself in this plight. Her solicitous husband Eliot (Michael Husband) reassures her that eventually her memory will return, as does her friend Denise (Wendy Croft) and her flamboyant artist neighbour Tod (David Morris) - who painted her portrait. But they refuse to be drawn on the subject of the explosion and subsequent fire which nearly killed her. Agnes, her secretary (Vicki Green) takes refuge in her office (dramatically concealed behind a pivoting bookcase), but is finally cornered by Paula and tells her the story as far as she knows it. Who made the mysterious phone call which Eliot took on the morning of the fire? And was Agnes right in thinking that Paula was listening on the extension upstairs? Jim Guthrie, Paula's agent (Martin George) fills in some more details and Paula's unease grows stronger. Whose picture reveals the truth?

The set gave us the first hint of the excellent production values we were about to enjoy. The opulent olde worlde cottage was depicted in rich deep red colours and rustic timbers. The aforementioned bookcase was well stocked and the pivoting section swung smoothly. Paula's writing desk and chair, the well stocked drinks table, the two armchairs and the incidental furniture, which lent further interest to the set, were all well chosen. The introductory and incidental music evoked an atmosphere of suspense right from the start, and the sound and lighting effects, particularly during the transitions to the flashback scenes, were extremely well handled by technical director Mark Easterfield, building the suspense to the impending revelations most effectively.

For me, this cast, augmented by Rosie Wilson as Mrs Barlow, performed as an ensemble, each actor bringing added value to the sum of the parts, and I couldn't single any of them out for especial mention. How fortunate WCP is to have such an abundance of excellent performers. At no point did our interest flag, a tribute to the writing but also to the director, Jane Stewart, who varied the pace with great intelligence. If I have a small criticism, it would be that the actors' moves occasionally seemed to lack true motivation and consequently didn't carry complete conviction. However, for a new director this was an excellent first outing. Jane evidently enjoyed the experience, and it's to be hoped that she'll return to it in the future. Congratulations to her, and all of her cast and crew, for providing us with such an enjoyable evening's entertainment.

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