Reviewed by Carolyn Watts
Domination and sublimation run through this Agatha Christie classic. Central to the story is the river of pain inherited by three children in the form of their real and metaphorical prison-guard stepmother, Mrs Boynton (Leilani Loau).
Now adults, the children behave as juveniles in the face of Mrs Boynton’s manipulation of their every move, even on the Egyptian holiday she is currently forcing them to endure.
Eldest child Lennox (Brendon Raymond), must have had an adult moment at some point in his past because he is now married to the feisty, though often despairing, Nadine (Grace O’Connell).
The characters of younger siblings, Raymond (David Belcher) and Ginerva (Rebecca Sutherland) range from weak will to florid psychosis. Their self-esteem ground under Mrs Boynton’s cruelty, the children show rare signs of desire for a normal life but these are brief glimpses of clear water otherwise buried under decades of silt.
At times the dominant Mrs Boynton drags down the pace of the play, forcing not only her children, but also the audience to endure the dark world of her family. Loau’s overly long silences between lines and occasional ‘Dr Evil’ laugh, purposefully draw attention away from the play and onto herself, as she drags us into the undertow she has become for this family, forcing us to sit through a discomfort we could otherwise only guess at. Were her lines delivered quicker or with less self-obsession, we could not understand first-hand the horror of living within Mrs Boynton’s toxic whirlpool.
Sutherland’s Ginerva is deceptively bright until we try to find any common sense in her ramblings and Belcher adds a touch of the automaton to Raymond Boynton, describing the depth of his unhinged internal repertoire.
Normality and comic relief occasionally surface through the performances of Nadine, (Grace O’Connell), Jefferson Cope (Barry James Acosta) and Dr Sarah King (Anna Hitchings) all uplifting after the darkness of Mrs Boynton.
The Waiter/Porter (Kunal Lakhani) embodies that stranger to post-colonial life, a secretly cheeky servant, while The Dragoman (Emmanuel Said) delivers obsequious lines that fail to get him financial reward while ultimately placing him out of reach of the barbs of snooty Lady Westholme (Sandra Bass).
Barry Nielsen’s direction of the cast of fourteen excellent performers reminds us of Agatha Christie’s fascination with psychological types and leaves the audience with much to mull over. The sets are outstanding, scene changes swift, and there wasn’t a technical hitch to be seen. Thoroughly professional performances all round.
Appointment with Death is playing at The Genesian Theatre until 20 August—it doesn’t disappoint!
Photos by Genesian Theatre