Review – Nightmare at the Lichfield Garrick Studio

Review: Nightmare by the Lichfield Players

Lichfield Garrick Studio Theatre

Wednesday 26 September 2018

There is nothing better than a classic murder whodunit and ‘Nightmare’, the latest prouduction from the Lichfield Players, definitely has all the ingredients for an evening of twists, revelations, body counts, double-crossings and, oh yes, several more  twists!

The play is written by Norman Robbins, a writer normally associated with pantomime scripts and although this is a murder mystery there is also a dark humour running through it and Robbins clearly uses his comedic past to put in some nice one liners and tragic-comic scenes.

The play is set in a remote house on a wild and lonely moor in Yorkshire with the classic soundtrack of driving rain and crashing thunder and lightning as the backdrop to the action. The home is owned by ageing writer Marion Bishop who is terminally ill with a medically lethal cocktail of cancer and heart problems to contend with. She is looked after by the village gossip, homely Doris Meacham, local girl bright-and-breezy Katherine Willis as well as the seemingly over-attentive local GP, Dr Thorne. When Katherine is away Dr Thorne arranges for a nurse, Laura Vinnecombe, to take over the reins. Doris also helps to look after and care for Katherine’s troubled brother, Michael, who after an accident cannot speak or communicate clearly. Also lurking in the shadows is Raymond Shapley, Marion’s estranged and resentful son who hopes that Marion will die sooner rather than later as she looks after a trust for him and he is desperate to raise some much needed funds.
When Raymond breaks into his mother’s house to try and make her see sense and hand over his trust fund to her immediately it sets off a chain of murderous events. Raymond does not realise that Marion has already changed her will to leave her entire, considerable, estate to the caring Dr Thorne who, it turns out, knows Nurse Vinnecombe on more than just a professional basis. Nurse Vinnecombe also has a dark past and clearly has more than one skeleton in the cupboard. The house is bombarded with mysterious, and silent, phone calls and, as Marion becomes more and more poorly, fed with a constant supply of drugs by the doctor and nurse, tensions begin to increase. When the body count starts to mount it becomes clear there is a murderous killer on the prowl…but is it the dangerous doctor, the nurse with a villainous ex-partner on her trail, the evil revengeful son or could it possibly be Mrs Meacham, the village busybody with a heart of gold…the final twist in the tale will reveal a shocking conclusion…

This is a thriller that builds and builds as the plotlines, and characters, develop. The first act introduces you to all of the main characters so well that by the end of act one you have got them all in nice neat compartments, and you believe you can name the killer without working at it too hard. During the interval you pat yourself on the back and tell yourself that you are the next Inspector Maigret or Miss Marple. But as the second act develops you realise that your neatly stacked pyramid of whodunit logic cards has been lifted up and thrown all over the floor! All of your pre-conceived ideas are shown to be ill-conceived and you realise you are more Inspector Clousseau than Maigret!

The Lichfield Players are excellent at putting these type of plays on, comfortable with either knockabout comedies, such as Curtain Up! or dark thrillers such as Blood Money. An experienced and accomplished cast steer us through the twists and turns of this dark and, at times, claustrophobic thriller with ease, but all conducted with a light touch and easy style with more than a nod to pitch black humour.

Becky Wright is full of fresh faced and perky good humour as young Katherine (until we see a steelier side of her character), Alex Dziegel cleverly balances the role of the nurse who turns from taking the heartbeat of her patient to threatening to take her life and switches from being mean and aggressive in one scene to vulnerable and frightened in the next. Andy Jones, last seen as the philandering game show host in Blood Money, is convincing as the doctor whose bedside manner is charming but whose easy charm may hide a hidden agenda. Adrian Venables as Raymond, the most obvious looking villain of the piece, is suitably brooding, menacing and cowardly as he bullies and threatens his ailing, aged mother, while slurping her vintage brandy and stealing the family antiques. Dickie Bannister has the most demanding role as Michael, the mentally challenged brother, as he does not have any coherent lines and has to use facial expressions and body language as his main acting tools. He invokes sympathy in every scene though as his life becomes more and more unbearable to the degree that a lady in the audience behind me lightly whispered: ‘Oh, poor old Michael’…!
The experienced Maureen George, as Doris, and Gina Martin as Marion are both fantastic, Maureen is ideal as Doris, with a string of lovely one liners and showing empathy for Michael and Marion, again cleverly changing her role in the second act as she shows that the killer has not fooled her as easily as he (or she) thinks.
Gina plays the doddery, frail and increasingly confused through illness and over-prescribed drugs in fine style and is excellent as she turns from mumbling Marion to sharp as a tack murder mystery busting Marion in the second act.

Nightmare is a suspenseful crossword puzzle of a classic murder whodunit, with an ingenious and intriguing reveal. You may well guess the killer in every episode of Midsummer Murders but I very much doubt you’ll work out the identity of the killer in Nightmare…you will literally be kept guessing right up to the final curtain!

Nightmare by the Lichfield Players runs at the Lichfield Garrick Studio theatre until Saturday 29 September. Performances start at 7.45pm, tickets are priced at £14 and are available from the Lichfield Garrick box office, ring 01543 412121 or book online at:
www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/drama/nightmare/2286#