Time to Kill by Leslie Darbon - directed by Reg Peters
Critic's Comments:- (Contd)
"After opening mood music, which should have been louder, in my opinion, in order to silence the audience and create more excitement, the curtains opened on a living room scene, with one entrance/exit at the rear stage right and the same stage left. Two windows at the back looked out on trees/gardens. Some artistic license was needed to overcome the incongruity of the landing being on the same level as the living room and kitchen. However, the landing was effective, since balustrade and vertical bars served as both prison cell, from which Alan Sexton was to have "escaped" in order to begin the sexual fantasy that was to entrap him and then as the prisoner's dock within the courtroom scenes. Perhaps some additional height between "landing" and stage would have created slightly more realism. Also slightly incongruous was the hatch at the back. From memory it was used once, to good effect, to create a voyeuristic sense of impending judgement as the ladies looked out upon the hapless victim Alan Sexton. However, its position next to the window suggested that the ladies must have been in the garden rather than in the kitchen. Could the hatch have been stage right or would that have cut off half the audience from seeing it? Finally, for a housing estate in suburbia, where much of the story line depended on nosy neighbours being able to see across the street, should there have been houses visible through the windows? If there were I apologise but I don't remember seeing them. These are all small points which didn't detract from my enjoyment but which did go through my mind as the action unfolded. Otherwise the set was strong and worked very well. There were no difficult sightlines and no period when action was obscured by props, scenery or other actors. Positioning on stage was all good. Wardrobe was contemporary and the courtroom garb worked well. The lighting plot was straightforward.
Time To Kill was well written and probably needed more than one viewing to appreciate the nuances. Only when Don tried to release Alan from his handcuffs and both got an electric shock for their pains did it become apparent that it had been Maggie who had been reading Don's electrical text books and not the boy next door. Early on in the first scene when Don was rearranging his text books one felt there must have been significance to this and yet at the time it just seemed like irrelevant business and slowed down the pace. The same was true of the dialogue over the golf club chair, the relevance of which became apparent only later. (And did Don lift the chair despite it being screwed to the floor? I can't remember.). Perhaps more unease, or sense of guilt in Maggie's face and gestures, during these sections of dialogue, would have hinted at the significance yet to be revealed. Only in Act Two when all the players were allowed to develop a character did the action move swiftly along and the plot became really interesting. This is somewhat frustrating for a reviewer since the unfolding character of Maggie in Act One could only be thoroughly appreciated in retrospect as her exaggerated demands for justice or, more correctly, retribution, became apparent. Throughout most of Act One, at least until his discovery of the kangaroo court in his living room, Don was oblivious to his wife's machinations and we are left to wonder, again in retrospect, how much Maggie knew of his affair with Rosemary and the unborn baby which should have been hers. Her frustration at not having had children was touched upon and her vicious vignette of her father's ship throwing a thief overboard in order to keep the rest of the crew on the straight and narrow should have flagged something in my mind but it didn't quite; rather it was another example of dialogue I couldn't find context for until much later. Maggie was clearly manipulative; that much was obvious early in Act One. That she was also seeking revenge was revealed much later but the focus of her hurt and motivation for hurting was only apparent towards the end. The throwing of acid in Don's eyes was no less shocking for all that the acid turned out to be water. This single powerful act of deliberate destructive intent summed up the instantaneous recognition that Maggie had wasted her years in fruitless (literally, in the sense of childless) fidelity to an ambitious and self-centred adulterer.
In retrospect then, Maggie was controlling her anger throughout Act One, perhaps because the main focus of her perverted sense of justice was not aimed primarily at her husband but at Alan. This control did come through in the manipulative elements of her dialogue and in the almost melodramatic (I stress almost) seduction scene with which I suspect Maggie would not have been naturally comfortable. By contrast Alan was eager, na´ve and trusting, suspending his incredulity over the rather simplistic fantasy in which he was asked to play a part in order to win the higher prize - sex with Maggie. Alan was uncomplicated and although we may fault his morality we couldn't fault his openness and lack of guile. His outbursts and poor attempts to dissemble were always transparent. As an audience I think we sympathized with Alan, not for his suburban conquests but that this unlikely Lothario should be in such an absurd predicament.
The character of Don developed well in Act Two. Quite why he chose to stay and play his role in the kangaroo court I am still unsure but his role was a strong one. In fact, Don appeared to be much more at ease in Act Two than Act One and easily stole the major acting honours. Maggie was a much quieter character in Act Two despite her significant number of lines and this was appropriate as the unfolding drama before her was almost certainly not what she envisaged. The other ladies came into their own in Act Two with Judge Jane, rather like an imperious Caroline Quentin, showing sharpness and guile, with the moral blackmail over Don being just perceptible to the audience. Liz was a treat in the witness box and never stepped out of her slightly dizzy but loveable persona, providing most of the comedic content. Helen, with less to say, was utterly convincing as the "butter wouldn't melt" friend, almost an innocent bystander in the proceedings and yet her steely resolve, borne of a powerful need to keep the family together, allowed her to ignore Rosemary's cries for help without remorse. Helen was not amoral and had the compassion to switch the acid for plain water, knowing full well that Alan was not guilty of the crimes of which he was charged. This compartmentalisation of feelings was portrayed with simple conviction. The denouement was bittersweet; the serial Lothario gets off, the criminal is really harmless Helen and those who must suffer the greatest consequences of this process initiated by Maggie are Maggie herself and her, no doubt, doomed relationship with her husband.
I particularly enjoyed the second act as a pacy and exciting storyline rushed to a tense and unexpected ending. I don't know how Act One could have been improved; perhaps it couldn't. Suffice to say the production as a whole worked well, was enjoyable and an intriguing look at suburban morality. Congratulations to all involved and especially to Reg Peters for an excellent directorial debut."
Stewart Adkins-National Operatic and Dramatic Association
Return to beginning of this play critics comments
Return to top