Oct 12 2011 By Steve Bax
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THE Theatre Royal's latest Agatha Christie play is not so much a 'whodunit?' (the murder most foul takes place before our eyes on the stage) but a question of who will suffer the consequences.
The Verdict, starring a host of well-known faces from television and stage, opened in Windsor on Monday and runs until this Saturday night, October 15.
It the latest in a line of Christie plays to be performed at the Theatre Royal since 2006.
Set in the 1950s, it is a tale of the destructive consequences of love and a warning that those who would expose themselves to its power, risk despair or even death!
Robert Duncan, best known for playing Gus Hedges in the Channel 4 comedy Drop the Dead Donkey, plays Professor Karl Hendryk, an idealistic university tutor whose principled compassion inevitably brings hardship and suffering to those closest to him.
His decision to take in an outcast family made homeless by the authorities in his native country (the suggestion, though not explicit is that it was probably Nazi Germany) resulted in the professor, his invalid wife Anya and her cousin Lisa Koletzky, being forced to flee.
In London, wheelchair-bound Anya (played by Cassie Raine) pays the heaviest price, being cut off from her former home and friends, and desperately fearful that her husband will come to see her as a burden and leave her.
In this respect the play may echo Christie's own insecurities, born of her first husband Archie's devastating decision to leave her for a mutual acquaintance in 1926, just before she famously disappeared for several days, triggering a national manhunt!
Anya is right to be concerned: her husband and Lisa have suppressed feelings for one another, and Lisa too has suffered for love – sacrificing her chances of happiness and a career to stay by the side of a man she can never have.
Events veer off down an ever darker tangent when the super-wealthy Sir William Rolander (Peter Byrne) offers the professor the prospect of pioneering treatment for his wife in the United States.
In return he will have to agree to tutor Sir William's daughter, the selfish and determined Helen (played by Holby City's Holly Goss), who despite being many years younger than her teacher, has fallen for his impressive intellect and sets her sights on winning him at all cost.
When she murders the professor's wife and confesses to him, he is put in a terrible moral dilemma, whether to turn Helen in and thus send her to the gallows, or lie to the police.
In 1958 when the play was written anyone found guilty of murder in Britain could expect to face the death penalty, and indeed it was only three years earlier that Ruth Ellis went to the gallows, entering the history books as the last woman to be hanged in the UK.
So this is a powerful backdrop to the play and the professor's dilemma forces the audience to question what they might do in the situation, and their own feelings towards capital punishment.
The professor's decision will have consequences not only for himself. What will be the verdict of the jury, and more importantly who will find themselves in the dock?
At two hours the play a good night out in the company of an accomplished cast of actors. They also include Mark Wynter, a former recording artist, Lyndon Ogboure (best known as Nathan Wydle in Emmerdale) and comic turns from the tea-swigging, gossipy cleaner Mrs Roper (played by Elizabeth Power – Arthur Fowler's one-time love interest in EastEnders). Plus Andrew Malkin and Mark Martin as the ever-suspicious Detective Inspector Ogden and Sergeant Pearce.
The lighting enhances the production wonderfully, with windows appearing bathed in realistic looking sunlight, and the spotlight used sparingly and to great effect.
My verdict on The Verdict is that it is an engaging, thoughtful and entertaining way to spend an evening, and I urge you to see it.
* The Verdict is at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, until Saturday (October 15). Contact the box office on 01753 853888 or www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk