by Sarah Haley
The Ottawa Little Theatre closes its 2017-2018 season with Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest. The choice of play, however, is more than expected. Christie’s work often graces the OLT stage and for good reason: her plays are well written, well-constructed, and incredibly engaging to watch. While The Unexpected Guest may not be the strongest play in Christie’s repertoire, it is a captivating play that continually asks the audience to question what they see, what they hear, and what they think they know.
The murder, at first blush, seems clear. An unexpected guest, Michael Starkwedder, walks into in the Warkwicks’ home looking for help when his car falls into a ditch nearby. However, when Stark walks into the home, he discovers a man slumped into a wheelchair and the dead man’s wife nearby holding a revolver. Laura Warwick quickly confesses to the murder of her husband, but Stark doesn’t quite believe her confession. With the help of the police, they delve further into the murder, and soon enough everyone becomes a suspect.
Performing the work of such a well-known author like Christie can be a daunting endeavour. Façades need to be maintained, characters need to be well developed, and secrets need to be revealed in the precisely right manner. Performances are strong in this production which in turn, keeps the show engaging and encourages shock and surprise when the murderer is finally revealed. As the stern and stoic matriarch Mrs. Warwick, Sharon McGuril is able to bind the family together and complicate the facts of the investigation. Likewise, Jeff Clement, in the role of Jan Warwick, is captivating and emotional.
Despite strong performances, the production has a tendency to lag and the moments of high energy are never maintained. The chemistry between characters also falters, and highly emotional moments are momentarily lost when navigating the stage. This is most apparent in the interactions between Laura and Julian, played by Dylan Barnabe and Jamie Hegland respectively. Despite the emotionally charged scenes, there is never enough tension on stage to make the stakes of their conversations believable.
As is characteristic of all OLT shows, the set (designed by Romault Frigon) is masterfully constructed. With wallpaper lined panels surrounding the stage, the scene is transformed into a Welsh country home of the 1950s. Despite the well-executed sets, the staging lacks originality and character. The mounted tiger’s head and rifle on the wall are indications of the victim’s lifestyle, but it does little to support the characters on stage and the story itself.
It seems that this final production of OLT’s 2017-2018 season is a perfect representation of the season as a whole. It is chock full of talent and passion, but its flaws are still apparent. Armed with a talented cast and crew, The Unexpected Guest makes you question every word you hear and serves as an entertaining reminder that not everything you see is as it seems.
Sarah Haley is a student at Carleton University. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with concentrations in Medieval Studies and Theatre.