Dead Certain, Marcus Lloyd’s taut psychological thriller brings to a close the Devonshire’s season of Murder in the Park, and it runs until June 29.
Michael (Philip Stewart) is an out of work actor who thinks his luck’s turned when he gets what seems to be an easy gig; to act out a new play by a first time writer in the privacy of her own home. But he soon gets more than he bargained for in Talking Scarlet’s intimate two-hander.
The evening begins straightforwardly enough with Michael visiting Elizabeth (Sabina Franklyn) who’s confined to a mobility scooter. How she became disabled we’re not yet told. Pandering to his actor’s ego, she hands him the script to run through, and while he thinks some of her requests odd he comforts himself with the thought of the £400 he’s getting for the night’s work. But soon the script seems to mirror real life in very unsettling ways and Michael begins to wonder what Elizabeth’s game is.
Early on we get an inkling that they may have met before – he was in the chorus of a West End show: she was a ballet dancer in Covent Garden. Did they meet then? Michael certainly can’t remember but the clues are laid out for both him and us. Elizabeth seems able to speak only in riddles, pleasant ones at first, but turning nastier as the piece develops.
Guns are brandished early on in the context of the play within the play, making it obvious that they’re going to be used again as Michael continues to become more unsettled and manipulated by his evening’s employer who messes with his mind to the extent that he can’t even work out whether he may have been hypnotized or drugged.
Elizabeth, at last revealing that she used to be a Stage Door Johnny, blurts “I hate the word fan. Fanatic. It makes me sound like a lunatic.” Then, not doing much to allay Michael’s fears, continues creepily, “I prefer the word obsessed.”
We’re in Misery territory here and after a slow start, the tension is ratcheted up nicely in the latter part of the first half, leaving us on a nicely-judged bombshell just before the interval.
The second half gallops along, but loses its way a little with the pacing, acting and script not quite keeping up with the nicely set-up first half. After all the psychological drama I fully expected an ‘I see dead people’-sized twist but none was forthcoming and it all fell slightly flat.
Whether fate exists is the ultimate driver of Dead Certain. “Every accident has a cause which can be traced back,” says Elizabeth, and she’s an unforgiving soul when it comes to kismet. Whether her judgement of Michael is ultimately a moral rather than a fatalistic one is up to the audience to judge, as is whether the ending of this piece works or if it’s just too ambiguous. I’m afraid, after all the careful build up, I ultimately felt a little deflated as the lights came up.
Event: Dead Certain performed by Talking Scarlet
Where: Devonshire Park Theatre, Compton Street, Eastbourne
When: Until 29 June ( Sat mat 2.30pm, eve 7.45pm)
Price: Tickets £9-£19
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