REVIEW: Brian Blessed’s Towards Zero at The Mill at Sonning

No Agatha Christie play disappoints; but this one, Towards Zero, directed by the renowned Brian Blessed, stood out among the rest.

The performance begins as friends gather in the seaside home of Lady Tressilian. One man soon finds himself caught between his former wife and new love, leading to betrayal, jealousy and, of course, murder.

Set in 1956, this detective tale triumphs through its excellent control of the atmosphere. In almost every scene, there were thinly veiled references to death, the feeling that “something isn’t quite right” and the ever-ominous threats implying “you don’t know what I’m capable of.” 

But, there is no doubt in my mind that the women stole this show. Mary Aldin (Rosalind Blessed) made sure all eyes were on her every time she was on set, with her booming voice and great stage presence.

Lady Tressilian (Hildegard Neil) undoubtedly had some of the best lines in the first act. The play focused on her age and fragility, but her wit and authority over the other figures showed she was not weak in character. 

Bethan Nash as Kay Strange; Duncan Wilkins as Ted Latimer in The Mill at Sonning’s production of Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero, directed by Brian Blessed Picture: Andreas Lambis

Bethan Nash was magnificent in her role as Nevile’s stroppy second wife, Kay Strange. Her character was spoilt, demanding and quite frankly, rude; and Nash executed it with excellent style.

And what can I say about wife number one, Audrey Strange, played by Kate Tydman? She was utterly bewitching. She was the perfect foil to Nash’s Strange and established such a sense of eerie mystery, she made all of the audience hold their breath when she breezed onto the stage — despite always keeping her tones relatively hushed.

Rob Heanley’s Nevile Strange was engaging and charismatic, the fool who appeared not to be aware of the chaos he was causing between his two wives.

Meanwhile, Patrick Myles executed a loveable Thomas Royde. His understatements countered the electricity in the air and his oblivious nature could only be laughed at. 

Chris Pybus’s earnest Inspector Leach’s arrival along with Superintendent Battle’s (played by George Telfer) helped to change the pace, and the two of them pulled the whole tale together at the end. Telfer’s Battle in particular broke through the stiff upper lip adopted by the other characters with his no-nonsense attitude.

Rob Heanley as Nevile Strange, Chris Pybus as Inspector Leach, Patrick Myles as Thomas Royde, George Telfer as Superintendent Battle in The Mill at Sonning’s production of Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero, directed by Brian Blessed Picture: Andreas Lambis

Noel White played a mysterious Matthew Treves, who became intensely likeable in the second act and has perfected the art of the posh 1950s accent.

Duncan Wilkins’ Ted Latimer was definitely one of my favourites. With a camp attitude and hilarity providing a certain magic to counter the electricity on stage, his flamboyant manner provided a sprinkling of light relief.

The highlights were, of course, all the twists and turns of the play which made it so captivating — but you will have to see those for yourself, unfortunately.

It is also worth mentioning the gluten-free chocolate brownie with salted caramel sauce served beforehand was simply to die for. Even if you aren’t that excited about seeing a Brian Blessed play (and how can you not be?) I’d recommend a trip to the Mill just for those wonderful desserts.

The play runs until Saturday, September 28. Tickets can be purchased at www.millatsonning.com.

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