Fiendish cunning of Sidmouth’s Sleuth

PUBLISHED: 12:02 02 March 2011

Alec Fellows-Bennett in Sleuth at Sidmouth

Alec Fellows-Bennett in Sleuth at Sidmouth

Archant

Remarkable two-hander with Sidmouth’s ‘favourite’ actor James Pellow

SLEUTH, MANOR PAVILION, SIDMOUTH

‘Tour de force (dictionary definition:) A performance or achievement that has been accomplished with great skill.’

Anthony Shaffer’s extraordinary play Sleuth was brought to the Manor Pavilion by the Idle Theatre Company (whose title must indeed be a joke, they are anything but idle) with James Pellow and Alec Fellows-Bennett at the protagonists.

To quote from the programme note: “Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth is a complete and top class thriller, a plot that twists and turns with fiendish cunning and extreme suspense. It is also, however, a fantastic parody of the country house murder mystery and a complex dramatic portrayal of jealousy, conflict, intellectual rivalry and sexual obsession.”

Even more remarkably, although there are five characters in the cast list, at the curtain call there are only two characters on stage. How can this be?

What we were watching was a two-hander so cleverly constructed and performed, that we saw and heard all five characters; but were they genuine, were they real, or were there just the two of them playing games – mixing reality and fantasy in rapid succession?

There were gunshots, there were bodies. One we saw, another was buried in the flower bed just beyond the window (or was it?). There was a police officer, there was violence, there was also, amazingly, plenty of humour.

In the dramatic setting of a gothic type manor house, a famous author of murder mysteries has invited his wife’s young gauche lover to visit him…but never was a social call so extraordinary in its changes of mood from friendliness to antagonism, from openness to cunning.

James Pellow, ‘Sidmouth’s favourite actor’ as he is often billed, and Alec Fellows-Bennett, artistic director of the Idle Theme Company, are both highly accomplished actors.

They grabbed this complex, powerful play with relish, coming up with a breathtaking performance which held the audience spellbound and open-mouthed; excitement, suspense, humour, one never knowing just what was coming next.

This is ‘theatre’ at its utmost. Although the play has been seen on both the large screen and small, it still works best on stage, with the immediacy and physical presence of the actors. We see them bringing it to life.

A fine stage crew worked supremely well. The cluttered vibrant set, lighting and effects, were carefully and effectively presented, to back up the cast, and were just as essential.

What a shame that there were only three performances. Top notch producers and ‘angels’ kindly take notice.

MARY HASBURY


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