Some people relieve boredom by taking up hobbies like knitting or soccer. For Clarissa Hailsham-Brown, the main character in Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web, telling tall stories and playing tricks on her friends are merely amusing ways to pass the time—that is, until a murder at her country puts her ability to tell the truth to the test.
The play begins with wine-tasting competition which turns out to be another joke of Clarissa’s, but soon she has something else to think about. She learns that her husband is expecting important political guests shortly before discovering the murdered body of a man who had been threatening her family’s welfare.
Her habit of telling tall tales and spinning realistic-sounding stories (the spider’s web of the title) soon begins to take on a more sinister edge as she tries to convince the police inspector investigating the murder that she is really telling the truth about the events that have taken place.
In typical Agatha Christie fashion, the story quickly develops twists and turns as one character after another comes under suspicion. Finally, the clues lead to the most interesting solution as Clarissa and her guests finally discover the identity of the killer and life returns to normal, at least for most of them.
The quality of acting was an issue in the production of Spider’s Web, as some of the cast members almost appeared to be reciting lines rather than immersing themselves in the story. However, Heather Forgie as Clarissa Hailsham-Brown helped to make up for the deficiencies of other actors as she looked and sounded entirely natural in her somewhat outrageous role of inveterate storyteller.
Besides the acting, some audience members might have been somewhat surprised by an element of farce in the play, brought out through the characters of Inspector Lord and Constable Jones. While the constable’s mimicry of the inspector’s actions might seem at odds with Agatha Christie’s usual form of humour, members of the audience seemed to appreciate the additional element of lightness in the story.
The R-G Productions version of the play took place at the Forrest Nickerson Theatre in a space where voices carried well and all audience members had a good view of the stage. Although the temperature was overly warm, which may have led more than one audience member to struggle with staying awake, the room was spacious and allowed a substantial audience to be dispersed around the room rather than being crowded together.
The set of the play was somewhat incongruous, although not unduly distracting. While the combination of a plastic tablecloth and folding chairs on one end of the set and an antique-style table at the other might have clashed for some audience members, the decision to combine these different styles was perhaps more practical than aesthetic.
Despite its faults, the production of Spider’s Web was generally well done and allowed audience members to engage with Agatha Christie’s little-known story of the dangers of deception. For people who wanted a fun and lighthearted view of the famous mystery author’s works, the play was well worth seeing.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer