REVIEW: The Game’s Afoot


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The Game's Afoot


Kevin Gover reviews ‘The Game’s Afoot’ by the Cheriton Players at Cheriton Village Hall

Pictures: Craig Robertson

Crikey – here am I, theatre critic and reviewer – all at once sitting in a theatre where the people in the play are all playing actors – except the one who is a theatre critic and reviewer for Vanity Fair and who’s perhaps despised by all of them for how she’s described them in previous productions!

I look behind me for anyone carrying suspicious objects… come on Kevin, get a grip, it’s only a play. Anyhow, it’s also an immense satisfaction then to know that as a theatre critic and reviewer it doesn’t matter one jot what I say – as all four shows were sold out, returns only.

The Game's Afoot

The story is based around a real person William Gillette, who actually did exist, who actually knew Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and who received permission to write a play based around Sherlock Holmes which played to sell-out houses for the best part of 30 years.

The Game's Afoot

The Players have set it in Christmas 1936 – but moved the action and words to a mansion in an English setting of Henley-on-Thames instead of the original Connecticut. Good move. The set is stunning, with an idea of all the gadgets that Gillette actually owned (a 1930s remote control?), as are the period costumes… and look, isn’t that an old telephone? I’m immediately transported back to my own and pine for that hot summer’s day and ‘Another Murder in Cheriton’.

The Game's Afoot

And hey, look there… original paper-chain Christmas decorations! Wow, haven’t seen those in a while!

The Game's Afoot

The casting is spot-on. Gillette (Richard Perkins) rightfully dominates the stage. Richard is word perfect, and is the perfect host. Or so it seems! He’s invited the excruciating reviewer Daria Chase (Fiona Mackay) to spend Christmas. Fiona is a delight; it’s her first production with the Cheriton Players – and she also dominates the stage when she’s on. I cannot say much about what she does later on as it would spoil things – but I can just imagine what Saturday night’s going to be like when she has totally got into the part. Especially the seance scene (pictured below).

The Game's Afoot

Oh boy – the seance scene. The lights are dimmed and this part is genuinely creepy. Excellent.

There are solid performances from the ‘regulars’ – David Cradduck (who plays Felix Geisel) has some fantastic one-liners and retorts – and if you remember that washing machine from last year, you’ll be genuinely laughing your backside off this time round as he tries to cope with something that’s just as unpredictable (!) We all thought Craig Robb was going to explode at one point as he grapples with another member of the cast. Character acting at its finest as he ends up on the floor.

Credit too to Pauline Cornter (who plays the long-suffering Martha Gillette) – and who is so absolutely 100% evil at the end. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was scared!

The Game's Afoot

Add to this that cast and crew are literally struggling to stand up with the virus that’s hit the production team and you have a show that’s hit another level, regardless. Helena Gomm’s direction is masterful. I have seen many shows here, but I sense now there’s a definite change – controlled calm amid the chaos. It just feels different.

Yet there is Helena, front of house as the show goes on, cool as a cucumber and immensely proud of her team: “I thought they did a splendid job, they were absolutely spot on”, she tells me afterwards. “Night after night they get the balance right between the comedy and the drama… and I think that’s the important thing so that the audience are having a good laugh, but they’re also following the story and they’re gripped – and they want to know who did it!” So, as a theatre critic and reviewer, Helena also threatens me with their hidden room which doubles up as a torture chamber and threatens to get out the implements of torture if I give them a bad review.

As one theatre-goer @theotherdebs – who also saw the show on the same night as me – said in a reply to Winchester Today on Twitter: “Loved it! Laughed loads. Great cast and some terrific direction choices.” Agree, 100%.

This is one of the finest shows I’ve seen by the Cheriton Players. Another level.