Review by Andrea Bunjamin
The red curtains of the Genesian Theatre indecisively draws open and close to the first scene of Agatha Christie’s The Hollow – giving audience members a playful tease to the comedic nature of the mystery.
This murder story is set over what is supposed to be a relaxing weekend getaway at Sir Henry and Lucy Angkatell's charming estate, The Hollow. With the arrival of each visitor, we are quickly introduced to the entangled assertions each character has towards one another. And of course, love stirs mischievously amidst the centre of their dizzying troubles. Particularly, for the self-confident but condescending Dr John Cristow as the unfortunate assembly of his devoted wife Gerda, artistic mistress Henrietta, and ex-lover Veronica occur under one fine afternoon.
Coming into a play by the Dame of Murder Mystery, audience members could always expect to be kept on their toes as the sequence of events unravels. Through the return of Molly Haddon’s direction, this particular dance allows us to witness the balancing act between comedic timings and tension in every scene. The reliance on dialogue to clue us in becomes especially important to the things that are said ‘behind closed doors’.
The thoughtfully elegant 1950s set design of a garden room provides a false sense of ‘privacy’ for each character to emotionally convey how they really feel towards each other. The installation of multiple entry points and glass terrace doors becomes integral to the passage of time and the ceaseless possibilities of someone unexpectedly walking in. The mere sudden presence of a character could blow in an entirely different atmosphere. An exchanged glance sets off an array of palpable speculations – one of the many examples being wonderfully executed by a diligent cast.
The portrayal of the absent-minded Lady of the House, Lucy Angkatell (Penny Day), provides an eccentric start to the story, a character whose whimsical mind strays to several tangents. Day’s comedic build up of this character effectively makes her an evermore notable suspect as the delivery of her disjointed statements grows more bizarre. Day is suitably accompanied by good-natured Sir Henry Angkatell (Vincent O’Neill), a pair that effortlessly bounces off each other’s dialogue amidst a grim situation.
There's the beloved Henrietta (Jess Davies), a prominent sculptor caught right in the middle of several romantic associations. Not just as one of Dr Cristow's lovers but as part of a love triangle. Involving the chivalrous but overshadowed Edward Angkatell (Tom Southwell) who's been pining for Henrietta’s affection for years, and stubbornly independent Midge Harvey (Cariad Weitnauer) who is infatuated with Edward.
Then there's also the lothario and murder victim himself, Dr John Cristow (Chad Traupmann), a man who certainly lives up to his reputable brilliance and insensitive demeanour even before he arrives on stage. This was more apparent by his treatment towards his dutiful and plain wife Gerda Cristow (Emily Smith), a character whose patient nature seemed to be more of an annoyance. In a play that does involve some role changes, Traupmann’s performance deserves some added praise in his appearance as Inspector Conquelhoun. You can imagine the laughter in the theatre as the actor ironically steps in to be the detective of his own murder. This nimbleness was also impressively performed by the supporting roles of the stern housekeeper Mrs Gudgeon (Emily Saint Smith) , the reedy Veronica Craye/Doris (Alannah Robertson), and attentive Sergeant Penny (Natalie Reid).
By Act 2, everyone is on alert. As the scent of the murder remains fresh and the investigation ensues, we could hear the gears turning throughout the audience. For a brief moment, I was pleasantly reminded why these shared unspoken experiences of seeking out clues and discrepancies in Christie’s stories are so timeless.
However, the biggest surprise that night wasn't the highly anticipated feeling of seeing all the pieces of the puzzle lock in place. But rather how the play subtly dims its lights on the investigation and shines on the quieter emotional complexities of the characters.
Thoughts about motives and hints began to take a refreshing secondary role in some scenes that followed as we watched these characters attempt to comprehend the aftermath. The question of, ‘What now?’ hanging in the air.
Part of the cleverness in The Hollow is how the play could still arguably convince the most avid fans of Christie’s to let their guards down to the mystery of the true culprit – even, when we all seemingly know better. To simply serve as witnesses and just enjoy the ride.