Aegean Enigma by Hilary Lee-Corbin
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Review of Aegean Enigma in the Farnham Herald
The Bourne Players gave their audience a really exciting and innovative evening on April 10th. Firstly they performed an entirely new play written and directed by one of their own members, Hilary Lee-Corbin, and secondly they provided the audience with an excellent supper, each course preceding an act of the three–act play. This format may well revive the audience numbers at local amateur productions. These have recently fallen off, possibly due to the lure of watching exotic “Boxed sets” in one’s own living room.
Aegean Enigma was a variation on the traditional “house-party” detective story where the characters are assembled in an isolated location - in this case a cruise ship. A murder is committed and a detective, who arrives to investigate, reveals the shameful secrets and possible motives of the assembled company and, ultimately, the name of the killer. The plot revolved around the exotic “Lola Caprice”, a gossip columnist who appears briefly as the passengers board the ship and shortly afterwards becomes the “Corpse in the Cabin”. All the passengers are known to her. Lola certainly looked enticing and we wished we had seen more of her.
The period setting of 1920 was carefully built up with the aid of delightful costumes and wigs and the play opened with a lively performance of the “Charleston” by Gerald Carstairs - the cad - played by Nick Lang and Athena Lawton – a splendid dancer. Perhaps the ladies of the cast overdid the clipped upper-crust accent a little but, to their credit, they spoke clearly and projected well. The set, designed by John Larke, conjured up the illusion of a spacious cruise ship in the limited area of the Rowledge Village Hall stage with white walls and appropriate period furniture so that the separation between the “on deck” area and the inside “Saloon” was clearly indicated.
Shortly after the ship’s Greek captain, who was played by Richard Amero resplendent in a dashing white uniform with liberal gold braid, announced the death of Lola Caprice, a Scotland Yard detective arrived on board to investigate. He was played by Adrian Warner and, rather unkindly, revealed everyone’s secrets before fingering the culprit. Adrian was more of a Lord Peter Wimsey than an Inspector Japp. He had the daunting task of performing a long explanatory monologue in which all was revealed and he handled this well. It was perhaps unfortunate that he was directed to recite this standing downstage whilst addressing the passengers who were seated upstage. Although this permitted the audience to see the reaction of the cast it inevitably resulted in his half turning away from the audience which lessened the impact of his speech.
During the dénouement Lady Ruth Partington-Hyde played by Margaret Tringham, whose white wig failed to age her, wistfully confessed that she was unable to forgive Lola Caprice for compelling her son to enlist in the army resulting in his death in action. Athena Lawton as Isabella la Mancha was a totally charming ingénue. She and Nick Lang held a convincing but silent conversation “on deck” while other characters were progressing the main action in the saloon. Nigel Dams gave an excellent performance as Dr. Winthrop, whose wife, played by Sarah Owens, was compelled to sell her jewellery to discharge a debt to Lola. The scene between Nigel and Noel Thompson, who played Sir Hugh Partington-Hyde, was one of the best in the play - it was absorbing and convincing.
As for Captain Stephanopolus, who had skulked in the background throughout the play, he was revealed as a complete bounder; not only was he the father of Beatrice Ripp’s twenty-year–old daughter but he was engaged in gun running. But he was not the murderer! Beatrice Ripp, a blue-stocking, was played with convincing sincerity by Heather Meldrum.
Before Inspector Featherstonhaugh revealed the culprit the audience was asked to vote as to who they thought had killed Lola Caprice. The majority were wrong and I am not revealing the answer in case the play is performed again as I hope it will be.
The audience enjoyed the play, the puzzle, the dresses and the food. Please repeat this experiment soon.
Review of Aegean Enigma in the Rowledge Review
An enjoyable and entertaining evening was had by all at the premier of Hilary Lee-Corbin's play "Aegean Enigma". Set on a 1920's cruise ship somewhere in the Aegean, an unexplained death - perhaps even a murder - is about to occur.
The first act began with a brisk and very competent rendition of a Charleston, which served as a vehicle to introduce two of the main characters: Gerald Carstairs (played by Nick Lang) and Isabella la Mancha (played by Athena Lawton). Gerald is soon revealed as a womanising and drink-sodden 'cad' of the period, whilst Athena Lawton's strong and charming performance as Isabella was matched throughout by an impeccable Spanish accent.
Very soon, the existence of a 'stiff' on board the vessel is revealed to the cast by the decidedly rogue-like Captain (Richard Amero), and foul play is suspected. This news is followed in short order by the arrival of a detective, Inspector Featherstonhaugh, who proceeds to investigate the crime with his characteristic understated manner. Adrian Warner initially played his character as the caricature of an 'upper-class twit', before revealing a hidden decisive and shrewd nature. This was a pleasant and diverting change from the brusque stock-character-stereotype-from-Scotland-Yard, so typical of other murder-mystery productions.
Nick Lang's performance as a dishonourable cad was memorable - for all the right reasons. Another solid performance of note was that of the Doctor (played by Nigel Dams), who immediately established himself as an entirely trustworthy character. Lady Ruth was a tour de force as the entirely snobbish daughter of an earl, and Beatrice and Fleur were both played sensitively and sincerely.
Altogether, I thought that the entire cast performed very well, both when delivering their lines in character and during background acting in support of others on-stage. The production seemed well directed throughout, with both sound and lighting effects appearing on-cue. However I did sense a noticeable lag at the start of the play during which the cast appeared to warm-up and fall into their roles.
This was Hilary Lee-Corbin's debut as a playwright. I thought that the plot was well-contrived, and that the language, stage design and costumes were each evocative of the 1920's. She must certainly be congratulated for this fresh and engaging variant on the country house murder mystery. More please!!
P.S. The food, served by the FOH staff in period servant costume, was rather good too . . . . .