Toward Zero

Love drives people to strange actions in this accomplished performance, at the Maddermarket Theatre, of a rarely seen Agatha Christie adaptation.

The story resolves around the reunion of friends at a house on the edge of a cliff, and particularly the awkward dynamic between Neville Strange and his former and current wives. Things are not quite what they seem as he attempts to bring them together as friends, over an enforced week-long stay at the childhood home he will one day inherit.

Tensions boil over as the weather heats up, leading to a stormy evening – both literally and metaphorically – and Christie’s trademark unpacking of the twists and turns of the whodunnit.

At just under three hours, the play is overlong; while it is interesting that this adaptation is one by Christie herself and apparently lost for 70 years, it would have more interesting still if the action was sharpened up.

Which isn’t to say this isn’t an enjoyable or well-acted performance. Director Becky Sweet takes on stand-by acting duties as spikey matriarch Lady Tressillian, neatly disguising her book-reading and thoroughly inhabiting the character.

Lucina Bray is dazzling as faux-ditzy gold-digger and glamour puss Kay Strange, while Kiera Long couldn’t contrast more as the troubled first Mrs Strange; a brunette bundle of suppressed anxiety and surprising secrets.

Lee Johnson’s Mr Strange is a sticky sandwich of charm and entitled smarm. Ian Shephard is a pleasure to watch as the sandwich-munching Inspector Leach, particularly in his verbal duelling with playboy Peter de Costa (exuberantly played by Paul Ellingford).

The earnest cliff walker Angus McWhiter (a gentle Ray Tempesta) and the slightly bumbling and pleasingly self-effacing Thomas Royde (Jen Alexander) make up the main cast, with good supporting roles from Matthew Pinkerton and Terry Cant.

There is a tickling thread of humour in the play, and its eventual revelations delight as they unfold. The early acts could do with being trimmed back, but the performances and conclusion make it worth sticking with.