Colin Lawrence reviews Dead Guilty

Dead Guilty
by Richard Harris
performed by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by David Morris

Menace without Melodrama

This psychological thriller appears at first sight to be a fairly straightforward story. Julia Darrow is a woman recovering from a car accident in which John Haddrell, her married lover suffered a fatal attack leaving Julia badly injured. Julia is haunted by feelings of guilt and uncertainty and is convinced that her affair was a contributory factor to the accident. Her counsellor Anne, tasked with the job of helping Julia recover from her mental trauma, has something of an uphill struggle given Julia's reluctance to truly admit how she feels. Endeavouring, in his own strange way, to both befriend and aid Julia's recovery, is her part-time home help, her 'Daily Male', a loner named Gary. Completing the mix is Margaret, John's widow, who initially appears to be a kindly soul determined to assist Julia's recovery. However, it's not long before the alarm bells start ringing when we discover that Margaret has a far more devious side to her character.

The setting, Julia's hall and living room was up to Waterbeach's usual high standard with plenty of attention to detail. A deeper hall area would have helped, particularly later in the play when we were asked to accept that Julia doesn't realise that she's not alone in the house. Although a necessary prop, the wheelchair was at times an encumbrance leaving little room for manoeuvre. The sound and lighting were very effective. This is a play comprising a lot of short scenes requiring the lights to dim and then return. The use of more atmospheric music could have helped during the brief scene changes. Because of this dramatic device it wasn't always clear what the timescale was between scenes and a few more simple costume changes would have made this easier for the audience.

Cath Perkins, who rarely left the stage, gave a good performance as the tormented Julia, although I would have liked to have heard more variety of pace in her delivery bearing in mind that the character has many opportunities to both 'flare up' and then plumb the depths of despair. Wendy Croft, as Anne, gave a measured and believable performance. Her doubts as to the suitability of Margaret as a friend to Julia cleverly revealed the character's professionalism. As the almost-but-not-quite obsessive Gary, James Dowson fully illustrated the character's sense of insecurity and his need to be wanted. His outbursts when unjustly accused of all manner of misdemeanours were well handled and exposed Gary's pain at having been falsely accused; this was a confident and telling performance. As the too nice to be true grieving widow, Christine Easterfield showed exactly how to pitch menace without veering into melodrama. This was a polished, well-balanced and at times mesmerising performance which in less capable hands could easily have gone awry. Even her matter-of-fact exchanges with Julia had an underlying edge which was quite chilling.

Making his directorial debut for Waterbeach, David Morris succeeded in drawing together all the strands of what is a slightly over-written piece of theatre. He did well to nicely understate the cold-hearted revenge theme, relying on the development and inter-action of the characters to bring the play to life. There were some very effective silences which helped to both create and build tension.

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