03:39PM, Friday 08 June 2018
The opening night of a new play is always something special and never more so than at the Mill at Sonning, the UK’s only ‘dinner theatre’ located in a historic converted flour mill by the River Thames.
The audience first dines in the charming restaurant before moving into the intimate 215-seat theatre to see the show.
Directed by larger-than-life stage and screen veteran – and national treasure - Brian Blessed, The Unexpected Guest is a classic Agatha Christies whodunit. It is filled with enough twists, turns and red herrings to keep the audience guessing until chilling end when everything falls into place like a particularly satisfying jigsaw puzzle.
Blessed knew and worked with Agatha Christie and the action, while an obvious tribute to the great lady, shows his deft and bold hand as the story unfolds.
The plot revolves around Michael Starkwedder - the unexpected guest of the title - turning up one dark and foggy night at the isolated Warwick House after crashing his car in a ditch. He stumbles across a woman standing over the dead body of her wheelchair-bound husband holding a pistol.
She confesses to killing him and, surprisingly, Starkwedder offers to help her cook up an alibi. But all is not what it seems. And as the unpredictable plot unfolds and dark secrets and lies begin to emerge, just about everybody in the house could be a suspect in the murder.
With the action taking place in the dead man’s study, the play is perfect for the cosy amphitheatre of the Mill, where the audience is ‘up close and personal’ with the actors.
The atmospheric 1950s set is adorned with the grotesque trophies of a big game hunter, all crafted – as the Mill points out – by the theatre’s props department as Blessed is a champion of wildlife conservation and patron of an animal sanctuary.
The play is perfectly cast with all of the characters fully realised, each with their own murky little secrets and motivations. The performances are polished and powerful with great interplay between characters creating some truly memorable dramatic, and comic, moments.
The Mill excels at providing a complete great at night out - a nice meal in comfortable surroundings, pleasant and helpful staff followed by a cracking show. And once again, with The Unexpected Guest, it delivers in fine style.
A delightful evening all round and one to be highly recommended.
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