Billed as a combination of Noel Coward and Agatha Christie, Farnborough Dramatic
Society’s February offering of ‘Death By Design’ by Rob Urbinati didn’t disappoint. What shines through in FDS productions is the obvious enjoyment the players get from all their hard work in bringing the plays to life.
The scene is set in 1932 in the home of Edward and Sorel Bennett in Cookham. Edward is a playwright and Sorel an actress. Both have high opinions of their own attributes not shared, it soon becomes clear, by each other. They have arrived in Cookham from London following a disastrous opening night and the first scene features their hard done by maid of all work, Bridgit, played by Barbara Jones in an adept comedy performance, who is complaining to Jack the handyman come chauffeur about their employers. It becomes apparent, however, that neither maid or chauffeur (played by Nick Abbott who obviously relished the part) bear much admiration for the couple who pay their wages. Within this first scene lies a clue to the rest of the production as Bridgit talks of her love of tittle tattle especially when it includes stories of murderous crimes which she would endeavour to solve.
Martin Dale as Edward Bennett gave an excellent performance as the playwright and the scenes he shared with Nicola Hollow as wife Sorel were a delight to watch as Nicola’s facial reactions melded well with the humorous dialogue. She remained on stage for much of the play giving an untiring and spirited performance.
The play takes a sharp turn as suddenly other guests arrive at the Cookham house. Walter Pearce, a Conservative MP, a commanding performance from Robin Walker, followed by Eric, a strong left wing socialist with a wealth of funny lines, which suited FDS actor Mark Hollidge like a glove. This was quickly followed by the entrance of Sorel’s so-called friend, Victoria van Roth, played by Victoria Hollidge in a powerful, exotic performance full of extravagant gestures and humour, which had the audience eating out of her hand.
FDS actors love a farce and the play continues in that vein which finally results in the murder of pompous MP Walter Pearce. Or does it? Poisonous substances are involved and suddenly the arrival of Alice, who turns up as yet another visitor but one with evil intent it seems. Although she is young and shy, Alice, played by Artemis Hollidge, brandishes a gun and shoots to kill Walter Pearce. Or has she? Artemis, a newcomer to FDS gave an exciting performance and impressed with her abilities even when the spotlight wasn’t on her; this attribute showing particularly when the character’s sight problems were revealed. Before that happened Artemis’ facial expressions showed there was something amiss. Casting back to the opening scene where Bridgit expresses her interest in solving crimes she comes into her own again as she takes over with the help of Jack to solve the mystery of the Cookham weekend.
Director Holly Seijo chose a fascinating play to start FDS’s 80th anniversary year. Her cast did her proud. But that’s not to forget the supporting crew. Stage manager Sue Williams and the excellent sound operations – I did once see another company’s amdram performance where an actor switches off ‘the radio’ on stage only to find the music continuing as the sound effects operator must have missed the cue! – but certainly that wouldn’t happen under Chris Franks’ watch. A great set design, wardrobe, lighting, publicity all contributed to the play together with a warm welcome from Tania Todd, house manager at the door.
Here's to the next 80 years.
Originally printed in the Farnborough Village Parish Magazine.