By Agatha Christie
Richardson Theatre Centre
Director: Rachael Lindley
Stage Manager: Candie Blunt
Set Designer: Kyle Chinn
Lighting Design: Kenneth Hall
Sound Design: Rusty Harding
Costume Design: AnneMarie Krupa
Properties Design: Cast and Crew
Henrietta Angkatell – Callie Young Windle
Sir Henry Angkatell KCB – Budd Mahan
Lady Angkatell – Karen Jordan
Edward Angkatell – Logan Gaconnier
Midge Harvey – Calista Hoyer
Gerda Cristow – Sara Austen Muir
John Cristow M.D. F.R.C.P. – Gustavo Rodriguez
Veronica Craye – Sara Parisa
Gudgeon – Anthony Magee
Doris – Emily Cole
Inspector Colquhoun C.I.D. – K.J. James
Detective Sergeant Penny – Collin Miller
Reviewed Performance: 8/27/2022
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Agatha Christie is known for iconic characters. You know Poirot, Miss Marple, or Harley Quinn. I’m betting you haven’t heard of Lucy Angkatell or Gerda Cristow. You’ve read, seen, or heard of Murder On The Orient Express, Death On The Nile, or The Mousetrap. You likely haven’t spent time in The Hollow, by book or play. Whether it’s books or short stories, endless TV and movies, or occasional plays, Agatha Christie has been a staple of entertainment for 100 years. Surprising since the subject is murder!
The Hollow began as a book in 1946. She made it a play in 1951. And it’s playing now at Richardson Theatre Centre.
But the evolution a story goes through to reach the stage is a mystery to non-theater people. Plays are often a collaboration by numerous people, from a playwright, and their family members, to the directors who put them on stage and the actors who create the characters. That’s true of The Hollow. The book has the structure of most of Christie’s books. But Christie changed the play to remove her iconic Hercule Poirot. So, Inspector Colquhoun appeared, and other book characters were also eliminated.
Rachael Lindley directed The Hollow and seemed to adhere to the script and style. We saw a lavish living room that spanned the stage with luxury. It was a beautiful stage picture designed by Kyle Chinn with a soft pink back wall, lit windows, nooks, shelves, a fireplace, and double doors to a rear garden. Lighting included set washes, with some color enhancements, but lighting designer Kenneth Hall also worked with stage lamps that highlighted key areas. One lighting discrepancy was that the back garden through the doors and back windows was dark. Seems a bit of sunlight would be appropriate since the action takes place during the daytime. But still, the staging was attractive and lent its support to this setting. This included furnishings, decorations, and accouterments of a rich household. Rusty Harding added in house sounds, phone rings, radio music, and gunshots. The whole country estate motif fits well together.
Costumer AnneMarie Krupa pulled out the stops. These were wealthy characters who wore appropriate clothing to fit their upper-crust English status. Collaboration may have included formal contributions by some actors themselves, but costumes fit well and added to the scene colors. Clothing colors splayed across the stage through frequent costume changes to fill the living room with suits in reds and whites, dresses of blues and grays, evening gowns of reds and black gold, with sequins and jewelry one might see on an award show runway.
One note in direction involved entrances through an audience walkway. Actors entered and exited there, but a couple of important they stopped at the edge of the seating and performed. It’s likely half the audience didn’t see them for being blocked. Some action was critical, so it seems it’d be better if they came further onto the stage area to be seen by all.
The Hollow concerns the arrival of members of the Angkatell family and a few invited guests to the estate of Sir Henry and Lady Angkatell. The Hollow is their home, but they came from Ainswick, the old estate of family patriarch Geoffrey Angkatell. The family has a long heritage, though it consists of cousins now. It’s also Peyton Place with secret love interests and intrigue.
Sir Henry Angkatell KCB and Lady Angkatell are the estate owners, both tied to the old ways. In fact, Sir Henry is Lady Lucy’s 2nd cousin! Budd Mahan and Karen Jordon made them a fun couple to watch. Manan looked and acted like the patriarch who has a good relationship with everyone and maintains stability in a chaotic household, though he’s not the driving force in this house. That would be Jordon’s Lucy, who’s quite the comic relief, as the matriarch who’s either a bit daft or having some early dementia. No one knows. But Lucy can speak things no one else dares, though it’s often confusing to everyone. Jordan seemed to relish these moments and the audience saw the humor in them, though they did hold little bits of revealing information. Mahan’s Sir Henry quietly questions her, but he also supports her with affection. She’s the spirit of conscience in this hollow, seemingly out of touch, but her ramblings are not random. Some of those become key evidence in the investigation.
Ainswick, the old family home, was left by Geoffrey to Edward Angkatell, first cousin to Lucy, and potentially a distant cousin to Sir Henry, as well. He lives in the old estate alone, pretty much hating it. Everyone else just talks about their fond childhood memories there but doesn’t want to visit. Logan Gaconnier played Edward as morose, depressed, lonely, and bored, wanting company, especially from his long-time infatuation. He’s sweet on Henrietta, though without luck. That makes him suspicious, with motive and opportunity.
Henrietta Angkatell is said to be 2nd cousin of Edward. I’m not sure where that puts her in the line of cousins with the rest, but she lives with Sir Henry and Lucy. Her passion is sculpture. Her past is Irish. And she’s in love with John Cristow! Callie Young Windle made her Henrietta young, pretty, vivacious, and a bit more down-to-earth than others. She points out the beauties in situations, trying to take the high road, but that affair with John does raise questions.
Yet another cousin is Midge Harvey. A 1st cousin to Lucy, which should put her squarely in the Angkatell wealth, she eschews the patronage and works as a dressmaker in town. Calista Hoyer gave Midge a feel of someone skirting along the edge of the family while being familiar with the way it works. Midge was one of the young folks who grew up at Ainswick and remembers it fondly but doesn’t see a reason to get back there. She slowly reveals her youthful infatuation with Edward, unbeknownst to him, through a series of small revelations, until it finally comes to light after the murder. She’s like the baby of the family, though Hoyer got to play the familiar lament – “I’m a woman!”
Several unrelated characters arrive to enjoy the family festivities. Dr. John Cristow, a famous physician, and his wife Gerda are welcomed. John, played by Gustavo Rodriquez, is brash, self-assured, and certain everyone should know his importance. Rodriquez played up this attitude which we can all identify from caricatures of English aristocrats, especially in British comedies. John has a couple of serious flaws – Henrietta and Veronica Craye. His affair with Henrietta is a source that secretly puts them into the crosshairs of jealous others. This affair allowed Rodriguez to show his skills at cringe-worthy seduction. But the wheels fall off when a previous love shows up too. Veronica Craye (Sara Parisa) is a Hollywood star who lives down the lane. Parisa certainly had the look of a glamorous femme, with fabulous gowns, lavish jewelry, and the gliding movement of a starlet. Whether her arrival is due to discovering that John is there or just a fashionable crashing of a party, we don’t know. Nor why she left Hollywood for a country town outside London. But she wants to rekindle her relationship with John and their scenes together are filled with intrigue. Their time together triggers the main action of this play. She’s married but loves John, who’s also married to Gerda, but he loves Henrietta, and may also want to rekindle the physical relationship with Veronica.
Gerda Cristow is introduced to the family when they arrive. They know him well but not her. She’s not glamorous or cute and has no self-esteem, but she dotes on her husband to a fault, even ignoring his obvious signs of infidelity. Sara Austen Muir played Gerda as a seemingly innocent wife who’s treated badly, ignored, and disliked by the man she adores. We don’t get much backstory, but something set her up to blame herself for everything. Muir allowed Gerda to slowly unwind the arc from a meek and quiet wife to an important character who’s fed up.
This house has help. Gudgeon (Anthony Magee) is the butler and Doris (Emily Cole) is a kitchen maid. These are not of the family but are key to keeping it together. Gudgeon is intensely loyal to Lady Angkatell, protecting her from her foibles and any accusations by the police. He’s the most British, in that he maintains the old ways of respecting the status of his superiors. Anthony Magee played up his subtle English accent without going for the effect. His fantastic butler outfit made him instantly likable. His movement and posture and that air of superiority over staff is the stuff of butler legend. Gudgeon has the funniest lines that match Lucy’s ramblings and was a joy to watch putter around impressing his respect for the family while expressing disdain through his eyes. Of course, loyalty can be a powerful motivation for murder, so he’s not without suspicion. Emily Cole’s Doris does not serve the family. She obeys Gudgeon but comes from a different generation and lets it be known that she’ll squeal to the cops if it can get her some notoriety. Cole played the servant attitude most of us expect from underlings with no long-term relationship to the family. But Cole also got to play up the attention by Sergeant Penny as he plays to her romantic leanings.
Most characters could be guilty of a crime and that sets up the family guessing and evidence hiding. Into this chaos walks Inspector Colquhoun and Detective Sergeant Penny. Collin Miller played Sergeant Penny as a local detective with the investigation chops Penny believes he has. His portrayal is a cross-over of questioner and Romeo, as he likes most to investigate the ladies. Miller did not create a caricature but rather an archetype of the 2nd fiddle cop working with a famous investigator. But his character is important in bringing important evidence to the fore, which allows the Inspector to do more thinking than tracking down leads.
That Inspector is Colquhoun of Scotland Yard. This is the change from the novel, which originally included Poirot. But Christie decided Poirot was no good for The Hollow, so as she adapted it for stage, she replaced him with Colquhoun. And I think she may have tried to downplay this new character. However, Poirot looms over any crime story whether or not he’s there. When K.J. James took on this role, she had a minefield of acting challenges. Colquhoun plays the Poirot role in this version of the story, the famous outsider who comes into a chaotic case where everyone is a suspect and identifies the murderer through sheer will of deduction. But James avoided those potholes to carve out her take. Through skillful questioning, finding tiny unappreciated pieces of evidence, and tying them together, Colquhoun does what brilliant Scotland Yard inspectors do. She figures it out. Yet Christie has another trick up her mysterious sleeve.
Christie was a master of mystery. Her line in Murder On The Orient Express may sum up her urge to pursue her unique style. “The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.” The Hollow throws audiences off the trail at every turn and the payoff is a genuine surprise!
This 3-hour production will take some time so plan for a long evening. But this show is worth seeing. It has all the style of Agatha Christie and the humor of people in complicated circumstances dealing with extreme stress. It’s well produced. The acting is excellent. And the direction was right up Christie’s alley. I think she’d like it.
Richardson Theatre Centre
518 W. Arapaho Road, Suite 113
Richardson, TX 75080
Plays through September 11
Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday Matinees at 2pm.
Adults - $20-22
Group rates for 8 or more get $2 off
For information and tickets, visit http://www.richardsontheatrecentre.net/ or call (972) 699-1130.