Thursday, 4 May 2017

“At the Sign of the Crippled Harlequin” by Norman Robbins
Burton Joyce Players
This is not a play that I’d seen or heard of before but is a real mystery why I’ve not had contact with this thriller.
There’s mistaken identity, dead bodies, a possibly haunted guest house in the Peak District in the deep winter snow, secrets aplenty and mysterious guests and the story is rich with shocks as well as laughs.It's also one of those thrillers where, unless you've seen the play before, you'll say "I was not expecting that" at the end.
Robbins is very good at writing interesting characters and there are eight very different characters here.
Marjorie Pike (Lorraine Andrew) is the first to meet her end but all is not as it first seems in her demise. Lorraine reminds me so much of Una Stubbs in her characterisation of Marjorie; a certain nervous aura about Marjorie, but is she all that she appears to be.
Katy Woolley and Adam Miller play the guest house owners,Sally and Bryan Lockwood. We find out that there's a possible cashflow problem and this may be the last year for them at "The Harlequin" unless something comes along. Could their answer be held by one of their guests?
Pam Seton (Kathy Matthews) is a regular at the guest house and by the end of Act 1, we discover that she has a secret, as well as a connection with one of the other guests, but what, and to whom?
Joan Reece (Deborah Craddock) is my favourite character in this play. She is opinionated, selfish, gobby and an absolute joy to watch. Deborah brings out all the acidness in the character but also gets to deliver many of the comedy one liners.
Joan's husband,Lionel Reece (Patrick McDonough) is well matched with Joan for his outspoken ways. they have money and they don't care who knows it. A couple who you love to hate.
Derek Tyndall (Steve Armstrong) is an interesting character. He speaks to his deceased mother in his head, so we know that we have a slightly unhinged character in the guest house. But surely he's harmless in his own little world... isn't he?
The final character is a young woman who's car has come off of the road in the deep snow and happens upon the guest house. Or was this all an accident, or is there something more planned about her visit?
This is the first play that Linda Burgin has solely directed and what I loved about the way that she has gone about this, is that she has not only ensured that the play is pacy, which built the tension and mystery, but she also looked after the little things.
This is what I love about a production. One of the characters slipped into a brook meaning that they had injuries. This characters coat was wet giving the impression of being in water. As the play is set in winter, some of the characters had to go outside and when they returned they had "snow" on them which they shook off. It's the little things like this that some directors miss. Not Linda. A wonderful directorial debut.
What I also liked was that the title of the play was also explained. The Harlequin was an old 1920's artist who had an accident and broke his back leaving him crippled. Could The Harlequin be the source of the mysterious noises deep in the night?
The music at the start set the air for the play and the lighting created just the right air as well, both the responsibility of Jenny Cowan.
A lovely set including Christmas Tree and decorations as well as a lovely warm looking fire. many props as well made the play and characters completely believable. These were sourced by Patrick McDonough.
A tight stage management (Tom Shepherd) made sure that everything passed off very smoothly.
I loved this play and having seen several of Norman Robbins' plays in the past, knew that I was in for a treat and the Burton Joyce Players succeeded in bringing the wonderful script to life.... and death!
There are many pieces to this jigsaw and just when you think you have all the pieces in the right places, you find another piece that needs to be fitted, leaving you back at square one. Oh yes there are many twists and turns with a couple of red herrings thrown in for good measure.
“At the Sign Of The Crippled Harlequin” is being performed at Burton Joyce and Bulcote Village Hall until Saturday 6 May 2017. Tickets are £8.00 from Burton Joyce Post Office, Delights Deli and Gift Shop or online at

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