Dundas Little Theatre, has produced a very fine production, of a rarely seen 1958 melodrama, Verdict.
Verdict, is a rare play by Dame Agatha Christie, in that it was one that was not based on an earlier short story or novel, but was instead, an original work intended solely for the stage. It's also a script that was never made into a movie, and let's face it, as most people have seen the film versions of stage plays, they know the ending already. One of Verdict's strengths therefore, is the fact that most of the audience has never seen it before.
I can report, the DLT has done an excellent job, in mounting this rarely seen play by Christie, although I think the reason why it is so rarely programmed these days, is simply because the play itself is not a strong one. It simply falls back on too many of the devices of melodrama. There are many strengths to be found in this production however, it has been cast superbly, and the ensemble cast is excellent.
The play, premiered at the Strand theatre in London's West End in 1958. The main characters have all escaped from an unknown Eastern European country, presumably the Czech Republic, and have settled in London as exiles, settling into the academic life of a university professor, and his household.
At the centre of the production is the trio of Mike Wierenga, as Karl Hendryk, Ilene Elkaim, as his wheelchair bound wife Anya, and Rebecca Durrance Hine as Lisa Koletzky; all are very strong actors, and much of the reason why this production works, is due to them.
The other seven roles in the play, are all what used to be referred to as “Character roles”, or “types”. This cast, gamely tries to breathe life into what are written as one dimensional characters; Gregory Flis and Lawrence Madden play the police investigating the murder, Nicholas Ruddick and Jennifer Barclay, play the wealthy elite protagonists, George Thomas plays the doctor attending and Dia Gupta Frid, as the Cockney landlady Mr. Roper, steals the show, and gets most of the comedy.
There's also some thinly veiled barbs directed at the gutter press and tabloid journalism, at the class divide between working class and the “uber wealthy”, and a great deal of social commentary on who deserves an education; those with ability who cannot afford to pay for it, or those wealthy and privileged enough to demand it..
Being inherently a melodrama, the play itself has a series of love triangles, as complication after complication builds leading to an innocent person being accused of a murder. Since the murder occurs on stage in front of the audience, we already know who the guilty party is, and thus can empathize completely with a truly innocent person being falsely accused of the crime.
This section was quite satisfying, although the need to tie it all up into a pretty little bow at the end, revealed quite clearly that this was the work of an elderly woman with a fondness for too many romance novels.
Director Peter Lloyd, has done a fine job keeping what is a very slow play moving as quickly as possible, and as I mentioned before he has assembled a very fine cast to bring the play to life.
This particular play was originally planned for April of 2020, before the pandemic put a halt to it, so it's quite gratifying to see that all those people were involved a few years ago came back to see the project through to its ultimate conclusion.
Back when I was a youngster, these British plays by Agatha Christie, and Alan Ayckbourn were a staple of local community theatres. They were a natural and perfect fit because many of the people running community theatres back then, were expatriate British people, and saw working on these plays as a way of reconnecting back with the culture that they had left behind in the UK. Doing this kind of play today though is now quite difficult, because it's much rarer to find a Canadian cast that can handle all of the myriad number of British accents required.
Verdict continues at Dundas Little theatre for two more weekends, and the set alone, is worth the price of admission. Check it out.
by Agatha Christie
Directed by Peter Lloyd
Produced by Jane Snider
A Dundas Little Theatre production
At the Garstin Centre for the Arts,
Market Street, Dundas.
May 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14 at 8:00pm
Matinees May 8, 15, at 2:00pm
photo by Keith Sharp