Review: The Unexpected Guest, Royalty Theatre, Sunderland, until Saturday

Principal characters rehearse for Agatha Christie's The Unexpected Guest at the Royalty Theatre, Sunderland.
Principal characters rehearse for Agatha Christie's The Unexpected Guest at the Royalty Theatre, Sunderland.
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FOR once the butler didn’t do it in this classic crime story.

Who did do it – shooting the trigger-happy Richard Warwick that is – remains a mystery until the very end.

Full of red herrings and skeletons in the closet, the show had an almost full Royalty audience guessing until curtain down.

The clever Christie plot revolves around one foggy night when Michael Starkwedder stumbles into Richard Warwick’s study finding him dead and his wife Laura nearby holding a gun.

The police are puzzled by a mysterious set of fingerprints. Do they belong to MacGregor, whose child Warwick killed, or do they belong to Laura’s love Julian Farrar?

As the curtain rises, dim lighting, a shadowy outline in the corner of the room and a slumped corpse create an eerie opening to this evening of intrigue.

The set itself was pretty impressive. Mounted animal heads, books and period knick-knacks helped to immerse the audience in this grand Welsh pile which is home to deadly secrets.

Sarah Tetchner is effortlessly elegant as suspected murderess Laura Warwick. Despite being found holding the smoking gun, she seems a little too poised for someone whose husband’s been shot. Is it a case of matricide?

Starkwedder, played by Billy Towers, thinks not and helps the lady of the house to come up with an alibi. The first scene dragged a little, but the troupe soon picked up the pace.

Cue Inspector Thomas (Lee Stewart) and Sergeant Cadwallader (Paul Dingwall) who inject some humour into the piece. Being half-Welsh, I found the Taffy accents a little dodgy but the acting was spot-on and you felt as though their’s was a genuine police partnership.

Dingwall in particular impressed as the camp copper more interested in reading Keats than getting to the bottom of the murder.

I also enjoyed Dan Page’s portrayal of simpleton Jan Warwick. His physical acting – even during others’ lines – had my eyes following him around the stage.

As the plot thickens, I whittled my suspects down to four – none of them right – but it was a delight to be proved wrong by this classic Christie twist in the tale.

Tickets are now on sale from Sunderland Tourist Information Centre. Tel. 553 2000.