Review: Players steal hearts with impressive performances

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Crashing out from beneath a bay window seat 'writhing in agony' is probably as memorable an entry into his first straight acting role as Carlyon Viles could wish for.

Crashing out from beneath a bay window seat 'writhing in agony' is probably as memorable an entry into his first straight acting role as Carlyon Viles could wish for.It set alight St Peter's Hill Players' opening night of Eric Chappell's juicily acidic comedy drama Theft at the Guildhall Theatre last night (Wednesday).

It was already bubbling along quite nicely as the initial cut and thrust of dialogue introduces two couples - Steve Sale and Lindsey Wilson as John and Barbara Miles, and Chris Lewis and Helen Blatchford as their best friends Trevor and Jenny Farrington - returning to the Miles' home after their 10th wedding anniversary dinner, to find it has been burgled and unaware that burglar Greasy Spriggs (Carlyon) is still there.

The audience already has an inkling that all is not quite what it seems to be by the time he rolls out in dramatic fashion heralding a debut that apart from occasional moments of tongue-slippage in a wordy role, was mightily impressive.

Already known for his singing roles in Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas it seemed in the first instance that he had merely swopped an almost trademark big floppy hat with a feather for a pair of pink Marigold gloves, but it quickly became clear that he would transcend a colourful prop.

This, however, was not a one-man fun run and if Carlyon's performance is worthy of a fair share of accolades it went side-by-side with extremely strong displays from the others.

Steve, playing an ebullient go-getter leftover from the yuppie era, is fast proving a solid and dependable actor with the ability to command the stage. Lindsey, with bags of experience to call on, proved a perfect foil as his suffering, loyal but secretly scheming wife. Their short slanging match, in which viperous jibes and innuendos were volleyed back and forth like a tennis ball, was a gem.

Helen slotted in effectively, building purpose into her role, which too easily could be relegated to the glam sideshow, while, Chris, who initially seemed too timorous as a former school-bully type, created a character that in the end seemed wholly believable in a plot that has reversal of fortunes among its many underlying themes.

And here was the great strength of this production. The cast, under director Stuart Hartley, were palpably working hard to tease as much acid, spite and venom as possible from Chappell's wickedly clever script that rummages among peoples deepest fears and secrets, sets skeletons rattling in cupboards and has a bash at a whole laundry of society's moral or immoral dirty washing and carries the basic message that none of us are saints.

A uncluttered set with deep beige-coloured walls made a fine backdrop to the action. The only exception was the bay window frame which looked too flimsy for a country house and had all the charisma of a polythene patio greenhouse.

Not everything in this production's garden was rosy but there weren't that many weeds.

Carlyon probably overdid the wincing and Lindsey equally overdid her 'drunkenness', at times seeming to flit in and out of sobriety. There were a few moments of slight hesitancy that noticeably interrupted the flow of dialogue. And the ending tailed away all for the want of slicker action on the curtain line.

But all-in-all, this was a neatly fashioned, thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre fully deserving of the enthusiastic applause.