As popular culture tells us, from Agatha Christie to Broadchurch to Midsomer Murders, the English countryside is a very murderous place indeed.
The Hollow, a play adapted from Christie’s novel by the same name, faithfully delivers in this vein as a classic country house murder mystery. Appropriately set at the Genesian Theatre and directed by Molly Haddon, the play is classically Agatha Christie with an interesting menagerie of characters in a quaint and quintessentially English setting. It is farcical, funny, quizzical, introspective, and demure.
Set in the play’s namesake home belonging to Sir Henry Angkatell, The Hollow revolves around longing, love and deceit. Henrietta Angkatell (Molly Haddon), a talented sculptor, and Midge Harvey (Cariad Weitnauer), a dressmaker’s assistant determined to independently actualise her destiny, whittled their nostalgic childhoods at the family seat, Ainswick, now in possession of the eligible Edward Angkatell (Thomas Southwell). They both long for the simple joy which Ainswick engenders but are prevented by separate obstacles; Henrietta’s love for the married Dr John Christow (Chad Traupmann), and Edward’s ignorance of Midge’s maturity and independence. The family, along with Dr Christow and his seemingly simple wife Gerda (Emily Smith), converge in The Hollow’s Garden Room at a weekend hosted by Sir Henry Angkatell (Vincent O’Neill) and the eccentric Lady Lucy Angkatell (Penny Day), assisted by the faithful and indispensable housekeeper Mrs Gudeon (Emily Saint Smith). The unexpected visit by the famous actress neighbour Veronica Craye (Allanah Robertson), who incidentally was Dr Christow’s former lover, threatens to raise tensions between the assembled party. When a gunshot is heard and Dr. Christow is mortally wounded, many characters have motive to murder Dr Christow. Inspector Colquhoun (Chad Traupmann) and Sergeant Penny (Natalie Reid) from Scotland Yard are sent to find the murderer.
The script, approved by Christie herself, is dry, sharp and witty. It was clear that all the actors were exceptionally well cast for their characters, with particular note to Emily Smith who fully encapsulated Gerda’s understated essence and Thomas Southwell as the reserved and cloddish Edward Angkatell. Additionally, a special commendation is owed for the director, Molly Haddon who stepped in unexpectantly for Jess Davis, performing exceptionally in the circumstances. The best lines went to the ditsy and endearingly flippant Lady Angkatell played by the Penny Day, which provided great mirth for the audience. Consistency of performance was generally good amongst the cast, but regular slipups at the start of their lines somewhat detracted focus away from characters’ interactions and intention.
The set was well thought out by Haddon, conveying both the charm of an English country residence and working practically in a setting that demands inflexibility. Indeed, theatre sets are generally minimal to increase their flexibility, however period drama requires suitable adornment which makes that approach nigh impossible. It was quite a feat to host a multi-day murder mystery in one room without detracting from the storytelling. Similarly the all-important costume design, essentially for any period play, was well thought out and executed by designer Susan Carveth, unsurprisingly befitting the Genesian’s long experience of putting on quality period plays.
Quoting L.P. Hartley, ‘the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there‘. The simple charm of Agatha Christie will be lost on some but will be admired by many. The skilled and sympathetic execution of The Hollow by Haddon, the cast and crew is commendable and deserves a look-in for an entertaining night out.