REVIEW – “Nightmare” by Norman Robbins – Bembridge Little Theatre Club

This was another hugely entertaining evening, courtesy of the talent of BLTC.

Even the weather seemed appropriate in a way that the director could not have foreseen:  the first scene of the play was set in unseasonably hot weather, followed by a terrifying thunderstorm in scene two. The first performances did indeed take place on two of the hottest April days on record, and on the final night, which I attended, the sound effects of thunder were followed in Act 2 by the real thing – a tremendous storm during which at times actors struggled to make themselves heard over the crashes and downpour. For the audience, it all added to the suspense-filled atmosphere, and the fact that at first I thought the real storm was just more sound effects underlined the quality of the technical effects – each was realistic and perfectly timed, and there were a lot – ringing telephones, doorbells, cars arriving and departing, and of course the thunder…

The set too was perfect – a chintzy, cosy home for a dear old lady who sadly, unbeknown to her, is in the last days of her life, cared for by a kind, well-meaning neighbour. Jane Roberts was perfect as the genuinely caring Katherine, looking after not only Miss Bishop but also responsible for her own sister Nikki. The difficult to manage change from her normal sweet nature to a knife-wielding would-be killer, out to revenge the Nikki’s death, was played on a totally believable level – we understood what had wrought the change and sympathised with her.

The gentle Nikki, described in the play as ‘mentally retarded’, was portrayed with amazing dexterity by Olivia Pike. Again, playing a character with a child’s mental age accurately, especially with very few words to say, is a challenging task to say the least, but again the character was completely real.

Martie Cain played Doris, the local grocer and gossip, with her usual verve and eye for detail – she captured the archetypal ‘I’m not one to gossip, but…’ to a tee.

I thought, by the end of Act One, that I had the threads of the story: elderly dying lady has three key people eagerly awaiting her demise – and ready to hurry it along – in order to scoop up her considerable fortune, while the characters already mentioned are on the side of right and may – or may not – foil their evil plans….how wrong I was! If there is a criticism of the play, it is that the first act appears to take a while to set the scene – but this is more than made up for by the revelations in the second half!

L-R Martin Ward, Jane Robert, Dianne Aspinall and Liz Jones

First among the ‘baddies’ was Miss Bishop’s jail-bird nephew Raymond, whom she has tried to airbrush out of her family, saying she has no relatives. Jason Harris, who played him, is well known for portraying genial, well-meaning good guys, and it was delightful to see the relish and skill with which he depicted the sly, sinister and threatening Raymond, ready to blackmail and murder to get what he wants.

Not that we had much sympathy when he tried to blackmail Laura Vinnecombe, Miss Bishop’s new hired nurse – she too was marked down as a baddie from the start: we learned that another nurse had been due to come but the local doctor had arranged her as a replacement at the last minute. When we discovered that the original nurse had been murdered, that Nurse Vinnicombe was wearing a wig, had travelled many miles to ‘get away’ and was living under a false name, we thought we had her sussed. Doctor Thorne was also implicated: having arranged her appointment, he was meeting her in secret – and then we learnt he was to inherit Miss Bishop’s fortune!

Martin Ward and Liz Jones kept up their characters’ appearances really well, and the apparent baddies were not unmasked until the very end of the show, when we learned that no one was really who we had thought they were at all: even – and maybe especially – Miss Marion Bishop. Dianne Aspinall’s portrayal of the elderly novelist managed to steal the show despite the other talents on the stage – from the start she gave us just the right mix of vulnerability and determination and everything about her – movements, tone of voice – made her character completely believable, so that when she finally reveals that she has ‘done for’ her nephew, her nurse and indeed herself, the audience is taken aback by this twist in the tale – to be followed by the final twist – Laura is not a baddie at all!

Well done Bembridge Little Theatre Club – you had me guessing – wrongly – right to the end, and provided a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining evening – despite, or maybe along with, the, er, interesting weather!

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