Writer James Cawood knows his thrillers. He claims to be a Hitchcock fan but, after watching tonight’s opening of Stone Cold Murder, at Dunstable’s Grove Theatre, it’s clear that he is heavily influenced by Agatha Christie.
There’s a lot of The Mousetrap plus a smattering of Sleuth in SCM. Enough twists and turns, bluffs and double bluffs, oh, and bodies, to keep everyone happy.
We’re in familiar territory – a remote and secluded country house hotel, in the depths of winter, bought by newlyweds Olivia and Robert. So far, so Agatha.
The 85-minute SCM is a bit of a slow burner, taking its time to rack up the tension through a lot of exposition and clichéd, not very original, dialogue.
The audience is drip-fed most of the back-story from an eager-to-please Robert (Nick Barclay), who is all metrosexual male in his Scandi woolly and designer spectacles.
He married the enigmatic, paranoid, and rather dull Olivia (Freya Copeland) just a month after they met and now the pair are ensconced in the Lake District in the off-season, the wind howling, and strange noises from out yonder. You just know it will end badly.
A knock, and a jovial stranger called Ramsay (nicely played by David Callister) appears asking for shelter after getting lost while supposedly mountaineering (not in those clothes, dear).
Olivia isn’t exactly mine host. In fact she’s a bit of a moody mare but, it turns out, she comes with what the Americans call, a lot of baggage.
Before we know it the bodies start piling up, an allegedly abusive ex-boyfriend appears on the scene, and she has to pick between a husband who bounds around like an excitable puppy or a rather lush small time crook called Sam (Gary Turner). Everyone loves an archetypal bad boy – don’t they?
There is plotting and counter plotting as Cawood lays it on with a trowel. Director Patric Kearns has his cast talk-with-a-breathing-space-between-each-word to stress the dramatic tension which ends up sounding rather vintage.
I rather warmed to Ramsay, who despite initial appearances (and an ability to drink nearly a whole bottle of Scotch and still remain sober), had a good heart.
But Talking Scarlet’s production is an enjoyable way to spend an evening if you like your whodunnits in the classic style. A good start to the Grove Theatre’s drama season.
Stone Cold Murder runs until Saturday.