The problem with writing a review of a mystery is that I have to avoid giving away what happens, because a significant number of the people who will read this will not want to know until they see it. For example, I can’t refer to individual performances by actors who appear as part of the denouement or reveal that some characters may not be all that they appear to be. I don’t think I am giving anything away by stating that the play was written in 1923 by Arnold Ridley, who famously played Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army, as that is a well-known trivia fact. It was, apparently, his most successful play.
The static set comprises a station waiting room, with a central door and windows onto the platform behind and a door and ticket window onto the stationmaster’s off-stage office. A nice touch is the clock on the wall of the waiting room, which (unusually for a stage show) is a real clock showing the time of the action on stage during the night of the action. When one of the characters on stage asks what the time is, another responds that it is just after midnight – and it is, according to that clock.
We don’t have long to wait for the first train – lighting, sound and smoke effects at the rear of the set – and neither do the four members of the cast who are waiting for it, but that train and those people who depart on it are not the subjects of this drama. The next train brings in the six passengers, each with his/her own personality and back-story, who find themselves caught up in the mystery. The tale told to them by the old stationmaster (Russ Guillaume) sets the scene for much of the suspense.
This is the sort of show where the individual performances of the actors have to take second place to the plot and the effects which variously have us on the edge of our seats, shock, surprise and frighten us. The parts, however, are well cast, well rehearsed and well acted. The annoying whine that Sam Moulton affects as the voice of the character Teddie (who has occasioned the crisis by pulling the communication cord) is, occasionally, a mite unintelligible – but he is supposed to be a twit who talks rubbish anyway. The meandering around the stage and gesturing by some of the characters during monologue sections seems a bit forced and unconvincing, but we soon forget about that as the tension mounts.
The execution and timing of the special effects and the sounds is excellent: top marks to Colin Pile for this as well as for the set.
The opening night audience packed both floors of the Tivoli Theatre and everyone was enthusing about it afterwards – proof that at nearly 100 years old, the play still works today. If you have a ticket for one of the remaining shows, then you have a treat in store. If you haven’t, then see if you can acquire one, or you will miss this classic gem.
Further performances: 17 February at 7.30, 18 February at 2.30 and 7.30.