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IT’s 1957. A stranger lost in the fog knocks on the door of a house.

The Unexpected Guest at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday

IT’s 1957. A stranger lost in the fog knocks on the door of a house. Two gunshots are heard and a man is seen slumped in his wheelchair.

A chilling silence. Then the sound of crunching from behind.

Everyone is familiar with Agatha Christie’s trademarks – the suspicious butler, the confusion surrounding the murder scene, the ‘whodunit’ plot twists.

But this is not the sound of the murderer retreating down a gravel path; nor of leaves being crushed underfoot as a swift getaway is made.

No, it’s the incessant crunching of Maltesers.

Needless to say, this rather spoiled the air of suspense so skilfully created by the cast.

The success of the Theatre Royal’s production of The Unexpected Guest lies in playing up to the stereotypes, with particularly fine acting.

Christie herself was more preoccupied with the ‘whydunit’ than the ‘whodunit,’ and this certainly comes across as the characters are explored in great depth.

Richard Warwick is shot dead at his home. As we learn what an abusive man the victim was, shooting cats for entertainment, we discover that each of the family members and household helpers has a potential motive.

All is not as it seems, however, as we learn that his wife Laura (Susan Penhaligon) has been having an affair with local political candidate Julian Farrar (Mark Wynter).

To add to the suspense, Michael Starkwedder (Ben Nealon), lost in the Welsh countryside, enters the house looking for directions.

The play is set in rural South Wales, although it could be almost any pastoral village community. To lull us into a sense of security, we are presented with the average 50s family home. Then comes something more commonly found within a present-day family home – Dean Gaffney, of EastEnders fame.

When most soap stars leave the TV screen, we are normally treated to an ephemeral pop career, or even pantomime. Yet Gaffney steals the show as Jan Warwick, the mentally-handicapped brother of the deceased. The Unexpected Twist? You’ll have to find out for yourself.

Juliet Eysenck

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