Brian Blessed’s Agatha Christie productions have been an annual fixture at The Mill at Sonning since 2016, when I was lucky enough to interview him about his debut as a theatre director with The Hollow. “It’s a virginal experience!” he boomed at me back then across the Mill’s intimate auditorium.
This latest whodunnit Towards Zero, co-written with Gerald Verner, completes what Blessed calls his “quartet of Agatha Christie plays”. Visitors to his previous productions will recognise some returning cast members, including his wife Hildegard Neil and daughter Rosalind Blessed, as well as George Telfer, here playing Superintendent Battle.
The story takes place in the drawing room of wealthy Lady Tressilian’s clifftop home in Cornwall where an annual gathering includes Thomas Royde (Patrick Myles), back from Malaya and carrying a set of golf clubs (wonder what they might be used for?), family solicitor Matthew Treves (Noel White) and Lady T’s former ward Nevile Strange (Rob Heanley), who has turned up – rather awkwardly – with both his new wife Kay (Bethan Nash) and his ex Audrey (Kate Tydman).
Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere in the house is rather strained. Kay kicks things off by angrily ripping up a photo of Audrey. With talk of a large inheritance hanging in the air, it can only be a matter of time before someone gets murdered with a nine iron.
While Brian Blessed himself doesn’t appear on stage, his distinctive voice opens the play reading the shipping forcecast on the wireless.
Neil’s Lady Tressilian is a joy, especially the way she delivers lines like: “Her mother was notorious all over the Riviera.” I also loved the simmering tension between Nash’s tempestuous Kay, and Tydman’s glacial Audrey.
Although they don’t appear until later, Telfer’s Superintendent Battle and Chris Pybus’s Inspector Leach make a likeable crime-busting duo.
There are, of course, twists galore. The excellent cast, combined with Dinah England’s splendid period set, make this a thoroughly entertaining two hours.
No zeroes here, but a solid four stars.
Towards Zero is at The Mill at Sonning until 28 September