Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Unexpected Guest

Gold Coast Little Theatre

Saturday 25th January 2014


Of her 17 published plays, Dame Agatha Christie listed The Unexpected Guest among her favourites - the intriguing tale of a stranded traveller, looking to use a phone late one foggy evening in May. As he approaches the Warwick’s grand country home he happens upon an attractive young lady in the dark, holding a gun and standing over the body of her wealthy but not terribly popular, husband. In typical Christie style, the challenge is to guess “whodunit” before the big revelation in the final scene. I must agree with the playwright … this plot line is a corker!

And so, a very appropriate way for the Gold Coast Little Theatre to begin its 2014 season – with a most enjoyable production of The Unexpected Guest. Director Andrew Trump has made the curious decision to set the piece, written and set originally in the late 1950s, in the modern day. While that works on the whole (and the very thought of the late Ms Christie banging out the word “E-mail” on her old Royal typewriter amuses me no end) … it’s a little hard to ignore the fact that none of the characters have mobile phones. The detective awaits calls from the station on the victim’s landline – the “unexpected guest”, having bogged his car, seeks out a phone to call for a tow truck. I sometimes wonder if re-setting a period piece in the modern day is actually a creative device to make an old script more appealing to a contemporary audience … or if it’s just laziness. However it appears, as far as the story goes anyway, to have worked in this instance - even if it does seem to diminish some of the magic (and dare I say the suspense) of the classic nature of such a play.

Jimmy Odenbreit & Marja-Liisa Rintala
In the title role is a local actor, who has been building up quite an impressive body of work over recent years, Jimmy Odenbreit. Mr Odenbreit’s performance is invigorating and thoroughly believable. He gazes around the stage as if he’s never been there before - every word he speaks is as though he’s just thought of it and is saying it for the very first time. Marja-Liisa Rintala plays the grieving widow beautifully and cleverly allows the audience to see the performance within her performance. These two develop quite a rapport in the first act as he attempts to help her cover what he assumes to be her abhorrent crime … or does he?

The remaining seven members of the cast play their respective roles well – their characters clearly defined. As difficult as these “catalogue of clues” type of plays can be to follow, I found that I missed none of the important facts. (I am proud to boast that I managed to accurately “finger” the murderer quite early in the second act.) Before moving away from the cast, I should mention Mitchell Walsh in the role of the “slow” son, Jan - another most believable and enjoyable performance from this young QUT student.

The stage set by Michael Sutton is superb – the polished timber floor (hand painted I believe) is a triumph of scenic art. While I found the lighting a little flat in places (although I accept that it’s not easy to back light actors when they are sat hard against the set wall) I think that technically, this production over-all is strong.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to the GCLT for 2014 and I would confidently recommend The Unexpected Guest to anyone who enjoys a good mystery and a quality night at the Theatre. See if you can follow the clues and work out “whodunit!”

Glenn T