If I were to tell you that this is a play from 1935, about a gruesome murder in a small village, and the people that live in an isolated house in the woods near that village, you would probably think of one writer above all others: Agatha Christie. But you would be (excuse the pun) dead wrong.
York Theatre Royal
Till Sat Nov 19 @ 7.30pm; Sat matinee 2.30pm
This is no cosy little country house mystery. This is Emlyn Williams’ Night Must Fall, a nerve-shredding psychological drama that seeks to show us, not whodunnit, but why.
If you haven’t seen it before, then I don’t want to spoil the storyline too much.
Basically, a spoilt, unreasonable and hypochondriac old woman is taken in by a superficially charming young man, despite the misgivings of her entire household. Their story plays out against the backdrop of police searching for a missing – and murdered – woman.
The flawless direction by Luke Sheppard shows us very clearly how timeless a piece this is, and brings out the skill of Williams’ script in presenting the dwindling sanity of a manipulative, cold-hearted killer.
He also brings out the farcical and comic elements, which are so necessary alongside the slow ratcheting up of tension.
Gwen Taylor is outstanding as the wheelchair-wielding autocrat, Mrs Bramson. Her transformation from unreasoning spite to girlish giggles is magnificent, and she revels in the contrariness of her character’s personality.
Niamh McGrady brings a sure-footedness to the very complex role of Olivia, Mrs Bramson’s niece and companion. She renders the changes in Olivia’s personality utterly plausible, which requires great skill.
The star of the show, as he should be, is Will Featherstone as the charming psychopath, Dan. He is never less than completely believable, despite the quicksilver changes of his mood, and the complete breakdown of his character as the play moves to its climax.
David Woodhead’s set captures the time and place perfectly – the chintz curtains, the faux timbered ceiling, my grandmother’s dining room chairs.
Inspired music (Harry Blake) and lighting (Howard Hudson) work seamlessly together to create an atmosphere of approaching dread, and heighten the sense of disconnection from any kind of safe, sane world.
Oh, and one last thing – watch out for the hat box…