Part of the Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season 2021, “The Final Twist” by Ken Whitmore and Alfred Bradley is the fourth and final instalment of what has been an absolute thriller of an antidote to Covid. The previous productions, “All About Murder”, “The Murderer in the Mirror” and “Kiss of Death” have all received 4 star reviews by East Midlands Theatre reviewers since the season opened on 22 June, but this reviewer would like to award 5 stars to this hilariously funny finale piece.
Knowing little else about the plot apart from the small amount of description on the Theatre Royal website, this reviewer was not prepared for belly laughs behind the mask! While the narrative is undoubtedly a quintessential thriller with twists and turns, the black comedy is a welcome thread that runs throughout, with every single joke landing on an audience who just want to soak up the merriment.
Sir Merlin Foster, a famous theatrical actor, in whose living room the entirety of the production is set, engages the services of Charlie Nicholson, a playwright with writer’s block. Immediately, the audience is questioning why on earth such an accomplished thespian would trust his murderous production to a gambling man who has been unable to formulate a plot for some years. The stage is then set for misunderstanding, miscommunication and misinterpretation with Charlie desperately trying to figure out whether he is indeed writing a play or an elaborate real life alibi for a murderous spouse. The audience is taken on this journey with Charlie and is never quite sure whether Sir Merlin is a genius eccentric or homicidal and sadistic brute.
The single set, a countryside cottage, is warm and inviting with pink interior and soft lighting, inviting the audience to feel at ease alongside the familiar jaunty rhythm of Mozart’s 40th Symphony. With only three main characters in the production, the actors are on stage for much of the performance with some swift costume changes, as well as unexpected and dramatic entrances that just add to the fun.
As the curtain rises, the pompous, ostentatious classics actor Sir Merlin Forster, (Andrew Ryan), is juxtaposed with the down and out, unlucky Charlie Nicholson (David Martin). From clothing to pace of speech to demeanour, these two highly accomplished actors completely embody the characters as they draw out their strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies.
Ryan absolutely commands the stage with such vivacity that this reviewer, at first, was concerned that his performance would overshadow the rest of the cast, but this was not the case as all of the actors demonstrated the same skill in the unique delivery of their individual characters. Ryan is almost pantomimesque in his presentation of Sir Merlin Forster, so it came as no surprise that Ryan has thirty one years’ experience in pantomime roles. His comedic timing is spot on, his cutting remarks perfectly paced and delivered with aplomb. It is clear that Ryan adored this role and he definitely made it his own. His, at times, overly-exaggerated portrayal of Sir Merlin is absolutely delicious.
Martin, as the desperate playwright, superbly balances the suspicion and creative desire of Charlie as he stutters and fumbles his way through to the conclusion. As a character, Charlie is clearly out of his depth working alongside the self-proclaimed “greatest living actor” that is Sir Merlin Forster, but as a pair of actors, Ryan and Martin have excellent chemistry. The witty dialogue is natural and fluid; the script is incredibly demanding and expects a fast pace of delivery… Martin and Ryan deliver.
Playing the role of Eden Dundee, Sarah Wynne Kordas completes the terrific trio and delights as Sir Merlin’s significant other. As an aspiring actress, a country girl who loves a good gallop and an heiress who is used to living in luxury, Eden could be viewed as somewhat of an overly indulged and pampered princess who is merely using Sir Merlin’s reputation for her own gain, but Kordas’ portrayal is anything but. The audience immediately warms to Eden and enjoys her existing turbulent relationship with Sir Merlin as well as her budding relationship with Charlie.
The set is well designed with enough props and furniture to create the country house feel, but with enough space to create the allusion of a larger, more opulent room. The stage is well used with the actors comfortably navigating the space and using it to add to the drama and hilarity of the production. The Director, Jeremy Lloyd Thomas, has done a sterling job of bringing together every facet of this production to create an almost voyeuristic experience which draws the audience in.
There is no interval in this production which works incredibly well for a thriller of this nature as the audience immerses themselves in the character relationships and the ever-evolving plot(s). This reviewer finds herself completely engrossed, afraid to miss any detail. The contemporary music that played during blackout and curtain fall for scene transitions does somewhat take the audience off the narrative and does not seem to fit the overall atmosphere, but this is the only slight criticism of what is a tremendously well constructed play.
Watching a play being written and performed within a play is a twist in itself and when the final twisted twist arrives, the audience is left wanted more. This reviewer only wishes that she could press rewind and watch the play back again and isn’t this the mark of a good thriller? The gasp out loud moments are few and effective but the laugh out loud moments are consistent throughout. Theatre goers should immediately, upon reading this review, secure their tickets before the end of the run on Saturday 17 July. It’s an unmissable cure for the Covid blues and murderously funny.
Booking Theatre Royal.