A Long Overdue Visit to The Little Theatre
A few weeks ago, we headed over to Torquay’s gorgeous Little Theatre for a night of board treading and thespianism.
It was the final evening of their production of Anthony Shafer’s Sleuth, directed by Anna Reynolds who I first met at Torquay Boys’ Grammar School where she produced their musicals for many years. Shamefully, the last time I’d been to see a show at the Little Theatre must have been when I was around 10, for a production of Wind in the Willows that I remember being captivated by, so when I bumped into Anna on a dog walk and she told me about her show it seemed like a great reason for a long overdue visit.
Sleuth for many may bring to mind the hit 1972 film adaptation starring Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, or, if your less fortunate, may recall the less critically acclaimed 2007 film adaptation, also starring Michael Caine this time alongside Jude Law. However, it was first and foremost a Tony Award winning play, a dark comedy in which thriller writer Andrew Wyke seeks to exact his revenge over the young Milo Tindle, his wife’s new lover, through a meandering series of games which he devises as he might stratagems for one of his crime novels. The culmination, is a humiliated Tindle, having feared for his life at the hands of Wyke, taking his own revenge in a complex chess-like arrangement of counter and parry that perhaps, briefly, leads the pair to a begrudging acknowledgement of the others ability.
Built upon twists and turns which are acknowledged as only having a place in fiction, the plays plot is ultimately contrived; for Milo to be fooled by them he must be taken for an idiot, or at least be highly gullible, but to devise his own game the opposite must be true, and likewise the same can be said of Andrew. It is Wyke’s character though that perhaps offers the solution to both these contradictions. His authority as a novelist grants him the capability to convince even a discerning mind of the reality of his fiction, and with Milo predisposed to dismiss Andrew’s literary style as beneath him, believing it to be a product of upper-class parlour games that bares no resemblance to “real life”, he becomes susceptible to the trickery. This is particularly plausible given he is exposed to these circumstances on Andrew’s home turf, the surreal and disorienting setting of his palatial estate, an apparent museum of the artefacts of his theatrical and literary career. On the other side of the coin, Wyke, in a best-case scenario is eccentric, in a worst-case scenario is perhaps insane. Either way, he has clearly begun to blur the lines between reality and the fiction of his novels, and his penchant for these games ironically makes him the perfect target for them; he wants to be deceived and outsmarted, to have a worthy competitor.
With the complexity of this relationship, a production of Sleuth will undoubtedly be broken if these two personas are not delivered with extreme dexterity; it is on their shoulders that the tension is built and maintained; they must unravel the twists not too fast nor too slowly; these drivers must take the turns not so recklessly that they lose control, nor too cautiously that they lose momentum as they exit the bend. This was certainly achieved by the duo of Jonathan Manley and Richard Gent who barely missed a beat throughout the whole performance. The necessary dramatic irony was maintained throughout and revelations were granted to the audience at the requisite moments to ensure that suspense and uncertainty were balanced with a marginally superior cognizance over the plays unfortunate dupes, an equilibrium which could have all too easily been unsettled by a fumbled line or misplaced plot device. The feat is even more impressive when you consider there are no supporting roles and with the addition of a number of slapstick elements, which were delivered with accomplishment, a not inconsiderable degree of stamina is undoubtedly required. The backdrop to all of this, was a highly professional set and technical display, both of which The Little Theatre are renowned for. The complexities demanded were by no means limited either; Wyke’s mechanical dummy, exploding crockery, but most importantly a convincing space which delivered the depth to portray a faux murder mystery, all of which were delivered.
Most importantly, The Little Theatre remains an incredible and unique performance space and one we should count ourselves lucky to have in Torbay. It’s impressively sustained membership and sublime atmosphere make this the perfect destination for an evening of theatre, and I’ll certainly be making the effort to attend more regularly in future.