Monday, 18 November 2013

PRIME SUSPECT: Clue solves the mystery with intricate plotting, strong acting

SEEING RED: Hazle (centre), Benzwick and Solomon play strangers trapped in an old house.

Clue (Peculiar People Productions)
Director: Peter Abrikian
Cast: Jerry Benzwick, Makeda Solomon, Stephanie Hazle, Rushae Watson and Oliver Mair
Venue: Pantry Tree House Theatre, New Kingston

Easily the most telling (and cerebral) moment in Clue, a cleverly written murder mystery by debut playwright Laveda Thompson, occurs well into the first half when David Mair's shady character Patrick Levy reads a "confession-is-good-for-the-soul"-type quote from Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, bringing into sharp focus the potent themes at the heart of this intricately plotted, strongly acted whodunit.

Offering some sharply observed insight into human nature, while exploring ideas of greed, power, lust and murder most foul, Clue evokes the eerie world of Agatha Christie, even as it offers viewers a fast-paced sequence of events at once puzzling and illogical until, that is, the pieces finally start to fit.

The skinny of the plot: five adults find themselves trapped in an abandoned old house on a stormy night. As we soon learn, they didn't end up there by accident or coincidence -- and the emergence of a letter from the unseen Mr. X, revealing that one among them is a killer -- serves to heighten the intrigue.

They say directing is eighty percent casting. In handpicking their stars, Thompson and director Peter Abrikian chose well. While Mair brings wit and dry humour to his part, Stephanie Hazle channels her inner femme fatale as the aptly named Storm. Rushae Watson, meantime, conveys slinky naivete as posh jewelry store owner Elizabeth Cartwright, bearing a striking resemblance to the young Hollywood actress Jurnee Smollett. 

The most memorable and compelling turns, however, come from Jerry Benzwick and Makeda Solomon (Mr. & Mrs. Neville and Sheryl Adams), whose interpretations of their complex characters' marital woes and desperation are rendered with heartbreaking emotional precision.

Performances aside, the show's strongest assets are the striking, uncanny sound effects and the intimate, way-up-close setting that the Pantry's Tree House Theatre provides. 

Clocking in at just over an hour, Clue doesn't always avoid the mystery/suspense/thriller clich├ęs (lightning-infused rainstorm, creaking doors), but it impressively evokes a sense of foreboding and late-night terror that's nothing short of palpable. 

In short, the play ranks among the most important productions of the year, not just due to the refreshing expect-the-unexpected factor, but for how it chiefly showcases the skill of a gifted, emerging-generation writer who is clearly poised for great things in Jamaican theatre. Tyrone's Verdict: B+

>> Read more: An interview with writer Laveda Thompson

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