by Agatha Christie and Gerald Verner
Richardson Theatre Centre
Directed by – Rachael Lindley
Set Design – Ryan Rutherford and Ron Hoff
Lighting Design – Wyatt Moore
Sound Design – Richard Stephens, sr.
Costumes – Courtney Walsh, Cast, Crew
Stage Manager – John Floyd
Tom McKee – Thomas Royde
Rebeckah Dolan – Kay Strange
Courtney Walsh – Mary Aldin
Budd Mahan – Mathew Treves
Russell Sims – Neville Strange
Elaine Erback – Lady Tressilian
Courtney Turner – Audrey Strange
Igli Gezim Laci – Ted Latimer
Rusty Harding – Superintendent Battle
Elaine Erback – Inspector Leach
Reviewed Performance: 9/6/2019
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
I have always been a huge fan of Agatha Christie’s work – both her books and her plays. Richardson Theatre Centre also has a long-standing relationship with Ms. Christie’s plays, as they have produced quite a few of them over the years, to great success. Their current production of Towards Zero does not disappoint.
There are actually various versions of Towards Zero, as the Agatha Christie penned novel was first published in 1944. In 1956, Christie adapted the book into a play with Gerald Verner, which was first staged in September 1956 at the St James Theatre in the West End of London. However, Christie first wrote a play with this title in 1945, which received only one week of performances in Martha's Vineyard. This script was uncovered in 2015 by Julius Green and has recently been made available for production in addition to the co-adapted version with Verner. All three of these versions of Towards Zero are very different, and it is the Christie/Verner adaption that is being produced at RTC.
Upon walking into the intimate theatre in Richardson, one is struck by Ryan Rutherford and Ron Hoff’s set, as it is truly lovely yet simple. The furniture and décor indicate some degree of wealth, and once the action begins, we find it is functional as well.
The plot involves old Lady Tressilian entertaining several people at her home. It is this time of year in which Audrey Strange always vacations there. Her former husband Neville Strange has insisted on coming then, too...bringing his present wife Kay, ostensibly so that Audrey and Kay might become friends. As one might imagine, this does not go well. Other houseguests include her old friend Mathew Treves, a very shrewd and intelligent observer, and Neville’s cousin Thomas Royde, who has always been in love with Audrey. Mary Aldin is Lady Tressilian’s overworked personal assistant, and while he isn’t staying at the house, Kay’s “friend” Ted Latimer is nearby at the hotel across the river and seems perpetually available to hang out with Kay.
With such a menagerie of misfits, it’s not surprising that there is a murder.
Elaine Erback portrays Lady Tressilian with a great deal of pomp and disapproval. She is obviously used to getting her own way about things, which makes the Neville-Kay-Audrey situation somewhat bewildering to her since she does not approve of such shenanigans, and Ms. Erback does a fine job. However, I do wish her wig fit better and her costume matched the period of the other characters’.
Russell Sims plays Neville with just the right amount of cockiness. He, too, is used to getting his own way and it doesn’t go well for anyone when he doesn’t. He has nice chemistry with both of his wives and seems to get along with everyone overall. His easy going attitude nicely gives way to anger at various moments throughout, and he handles the jumps of emotion nicely.
Kay Strange, the current wife, is played with perhaps a little too much modern bitchiness by Rebekah Dolan. As portrayed, there is very little to like about Kay, and we really should sympathize with her situation more. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Courtney Turner’s Audrey, who is described at various times throughout the play as being “devoid of emotion.” Unfortunately this occasionally comes across as her being wooden. The nice thing about these two characters, however, is how completely different their personalities are through the actress’ portrayals. They are able to come across as polar opposites, increasing the intrigue throughout the play.
Tom McKee as Thomas Royde gives a beautifully understated performance as “the man from Malaya.” He is laid back and comfortable in his childhood home, even though he hasn’t been back in seven years, and he is able to mask his dislike of Neville and love of Audrey quite well. Mr. McKee gives one of the strongest performances in the play.
RTC favorite Budd Mahan also gives a strong performance as Mathew Treves, who comes across as somewhat omniscient at times (an issue with the writing, not the performance), but fortunately his devotion to Neville, whom he’s known since he was a boy, tends to keeps that in check. Mr. Mahan has excellent comic timing, which results in many of his lines earning chuckles from the sold-out house on opening night.
Mary Aldin is a somewhat thankless role played by Courtney Walsh. As the beleaguered dogsbody of Lady Tressilian, her desire to just NOT have to watch over somebody is palpable, and we feel for her. Ms. Walsh is probably a good 10 years too young for this spinsterish role, but she makes the most of it with her fine, reserved performance.
Igli Gezim Laci is Ted Latimer, Kay’s longtime friend who has always been in love with her. While his portrayal of the playboy isn’t as smooth as described by the other characters, Mr. Laci’s performance makes us sympathetic for him as he follows Kay around like an injured puppy.
The police attached to the case are Superintendent Battle, played by Rusty Harding, and Inspector Leach, played by Elaine Erback. It was interesting to see the double-casting of Ms. Erback as both Lady Tressilian and Inspector Leach. She does a creditable job as Leach, adding some humor into a typically step-and-fetch second cop role, but despite the good performance, she is horribly miscast. As an Inspector, the character should also have been in uniform, which was a rather glaring production mistake. Mr. Hardy plays the stoic Battle with the regal bearing of a life-long military man and is a fine contrast to Ms. Erback’s less refined Leach.
Director Rachael Lindley has done an admirable job with a deceptively difficult script. Coming in at over two and a half hours (including two intermissions), the pacing never seems slow and the acting overall is first rate. Lorna Woodford served as the dialect coach and while there were definitely some issues with the British dialect by some of the characters, they are easy to overlook because the show is consistent otherwise. Lighting by Wyatt Moore and sound by Richard Stephens, Sr. helped round out the fine production elements.
Towards Zero is one of my favorite Agatha Christie stories, and I happen to love all three versions: the novel and both plays. If you are an Agatha Christie fan, Richardson Theatre Centre’s production of Towards Zero is a must see show. And if you aren’t an Agatha Christie fan, perhaps you’ll become one after seeing it!
Richardson Theatre Centre
518 W. Arapaho Road, Suite 113
Richardson, TX 75080
Runs through September 22
Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $20-22
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.richardsontheatrecentre.net or call the box office at 972-699-1130.