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Ravenscroft

by on 30 April 2018

A Whirling Maelstrom of Oestrogen

Ravenscroft

by Don Nigro

Q2 at The Alexandra Hall, Kew until 28th April

A review by Quentin Weiver

Heavy gothic opening music, heavy gothic velvet, heavy ladies’ frocks, the snow is falling heavily through the heavy mists surrounding the isolated house. Already a dead body as the curtain rises: could we be in for some gutsy Gothic heavy horror?!

Edgar Allan Poe meets Henry James in Q2’s production of Ravenscroft, directed with insight by Cat Lamin. The set and costume designs by Bob Gingell, Junis Olmscheid and Harriet Muir are indeed atmospheric, as is Felicity Morgan’s soundscape. But we open with a tableau. Inspector Ruffing, who has come to investigate the death of the groom, Patrick Roarke, is surrounded by the ladies of the house, sitting on chairs in a square. Are they in or out of the action? Look a little closer, there are anachronisms, some disquieting, like the painting on the wall, the (mid twentieth Century) M.C. Escher’s impossible staircase.

We have a whodunit … and a whatdunit, a whydunit and a howdunit. In fact there are two unsolved deaths, the groom and the late master of the house, both of whom died of a broken neck, having fallen down the same staircase. But were they pushed? Ravenscroft has two intertwined twists; in fact, it has more twists than the DNA double helix. Gradually, like a grotesque oozing through the mists around the house, there emerges the true Ravenscroft … a spoof Gothic horror.

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Here is the strength of the writing; that the concept of the spoof only slowly slips out. However, this isn’t Agatha Christie, the chronology doesn’t hold together, and its weakness is that it is poorly researched and it isn’t only the Escheresque picture that is anachronistic. It is set somewhere in England in 1905, but Edwardians did not say “smart” for intelligent, “hired” for employed or “throw up” for be sick. Author, Don Nigro is prolific, but with over 400 plays to his name, research is not uppermost. He hails from Ohio, so a setting in the USA may have worked better. That gripe out of the way, suffice it to say that Q2 squeezed the script hard for its tension, intrigue, and humour: a delicious mix that made for an entertaining evening.

The detective story is inverted in Ravenscroft: it is the detective who is vulnerable, not the suspects. The suspects are the five women of the house, all to be carefully reckoned with. And for the hapless Inspector Ruffing (who incidentally features in seven of Nigro’s plays) they are sirens.

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The governess, Marcy Kleiner, is in fact Austrian, a very self-assured lady, who meets Ruffing’s questioning with further questions and a sharp wit. Genevieve Trickett played this this role with great aplomb, revealing however the fragility of her true nature.

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Mrs Ravenscroft is the queen-pin of the house, who is expert in using her feminine wiles to her advantage.  Alison Arnold painted a clear picture of the character, endowing Mrs R with a sinuous seductiveness. Gillian Ravenscroft is an enigmatic seventeen-year old, with physical or mental impairments, or has she?  For “She plays with people: it’s a game.”.  It is Gillian who “sees” the phantom on the stair, but then again she “is not a liar. She just has a vivid imagination.” Jacinta Collins give this part just the right enigmatic touch and really animates the character.

Q2 Players Ravencroft

So these are the three above-stairs suspects, and each have their motives for pushing Patrick down the stairs or equally for preventing such an “accident”. But, what about the below-stairs, who are equally suspect. Dolly is the nervous and subservient tweeny maid, who nevertheless has a lot of native cunning and, one suspects is playing the “clever-daft”. Lily Tomlinson, has great fun with this part and gets under the skin of the character. Sarah Hill acts with veracity the part of the cook Mrs French, who is as solid as one of her bacon suet puddings.

As the investigations unfold, or rather enfold in a complex origami, all may have motives, all may be protecting others, or all may be incriminating others. All try amorous enticements on the Inspector, who tries to remain impervious. Mrs R is the most accomplished. Then lots of skeletons fall out of lots of cupboards. All five women may have had erotic encounters, none unwelcome, with the handsome and virile, and alas now decreased, Patrick. Further probing reveals that the same may apply to the also defunct Mr Ravenscroft, who it sees had an equally catholic taste in women … plus with his groom Patrick, with whom he used to dress in his wife’s nighties and waltz around the house! And so the plot thickens.

Then amongst this thickening plot, a seam of pathos emerges. Dolly is pregnant with Patrick’s child and is desperate to protect both herself and her unborn child. Moreover, Marcy has had an illegitimate child with Herr Klipstein, her former employer in Austria, and needs to support her absent, but much loved child.

Ruffing is caught up in this whirling maelstrom of oestrogen, and they all make up to him in various ways, subtle or otherwise. Then he makes the mistake that policemen should definitely not make; he drinks on duty. The women invite him to dinner, and is it the wine or the food or something else that affects his judgement? There is a hint that the drink may be poisoned, but what knocks him out is not the strength of his drink, but the strength of Dolly’s arm wielding a precious glass vase.  They did warn him that they would “eat him for dinner”, but the prone figure on the floor hasn’t heard.

Has the Ravenscroft household claimed a third victim? Well … no. Ruffing recovers his composure and his dignity and investigations continue. But the women have him in their power, and know where to find the raw nerve to touch. In Ruffing’s case, it is his motherless daughter, even more beloved by him since he became a widower …

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Inspector Ruffing is the centre of the action throughout the play and the role is very demanding. Craig Cameron-Fisher is certainly big enough for the role, which he executes with great stage presence, following all the nuances of this intricate plot. For all the foolishness and incredibility of the plot, Cameron-Fisher takes the emotional journey that Ruffing undergoes, and makes it as believable as the plot’s convolutions allow.
Whodunit, whydunit, howdunit? Who knows? As Inspector Ruffing says, “Life is infinitely more ambiguous”.

Quentin Weiver
April 2018

Photography by  Rishi Rai Photography and Ben PG

 

 

From → Drama, Reviews

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