The Late Edwina Black: Frinton

The Late Edwina Black by William Dinner & William Morum, Frinton Summer Theatre (until the end of the week)

The Late Edwina Black by William Dinner & William Morum, Frinton Summer Theatre (until the end of the week)

A whodunnit set in the 1890s with all the trappings of melodrama - poison, an eccentric but methodical Inspector from the Yard, and noises and faint rustlings of the gone before. Sounds just like summer season theatre fare and that's how Edward Max has chosen to round up things at Frinton.

William Dinner and William Morum wrote their play in the mid twentieth century when the taste for Victorian detective tales very much in vogue.

Edwina Black, an unpleasant, overbearing, but wealthy woman is dead. We know that from the beginning. Her widowed husband, Gregory (Michael Wilson), her companion (Jane Millman) and her sour, long-serving housekeeper (Phillipa Urquhart) are awaiting the funeral.

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We soon learn what's been going on in the house. A right spot of how's-your-father it is, too. Throughout her last illness, her husband and the companion have been having an affair. Now she's gone, they're free and wealthy enough to leave his poorly paid teaching post and go off to Italy.

That's when the Inspector turns up. The funeral can't go ahead. There are some questions that need to be asked - just routine, sir - about how Edwina died. The doctor wants there to be a post-mortem.

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From that moment on the cork's out of the bottle. This apparently calm and prosperous household is a seething nest of passions, weakness and hatreds.

The puzzle is all. Has there been murder? It's obvious who has most to gain by her death. What about the weedkiller in the greenhouse?

Whatever's left of the veneer of respectability is stripped away and the gloves come off. In a well-orchestrated series of bust-ups between Michael Wilson and Jane Millman, the lovers fall out. It's a battle royal of blame-shifting arising out mutual weakness.

Philip Benjamin, ever present throughout the season and giving engaging performances every time, is a smiling, sharp-witted and unfailingly dogged Inspector. His interventions enable the drama to turn its many corners.

This, for me, is not the best play of the genre, the characters are written slightly at arm's length. That the cast and director Sean McLevy turn it into an intriguing and entertaining evening is to their credit rather than the two playwrights.

Ivan Howlett

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