Towards Zero – The Mill at Sonning Theatre
The setting of The Mill, the atmosphere of the beautiful theatre, the divine food, and the lovely staff really made this day one to remember. I’d recommend Towards Zero to any adult families, any groups of friends, or to any murder mystery enthusiasts, but it’s definitely one to share and much more fun in company. Your ticket price includes the treat of a pre-show 2 course dinner. Plentiful portions of the most delicious food I’ve had in a very, very long time set everyone up properly for a good storytelling. I entered the theatre stuffed to the brim, feeling very cheerful in company, and ready to work out ‘who dunnit’ in Agatha Christie’s self proclaimed best play.
Towards Zero centres around a tense family/friends group, that are chaotically thrown together at Lady Tressilian’s house in Cornwall. Most of the group despise one another, but as Matthew Treves says ‘If one sticks too rigidly to one’s principles, they’d hardly see anybody!’ so they all gather for a summer holiday.
It’s easy to see why Agatha Christie loved Towards Zero in particular. The plot was captivating, and time flew by watching it – a play of 3 Acts, but only 1 interval – I was shocked at how quickly we’d reached the end of each Act as the overly dramatic War of the Worlds-esque music thrummed through the theatre – making everyone giggle and ‘oooh’ in equal measure. It felt like watching a 1940’s television show – I felt nostalgic for a time I’d never lived through.
The set design was stunning. Some of the best work I’ve seen – the ‘daylight’ through the windows all along the back of the set effortlessly convinced you we were sitting in this summer house by the beach. The fight choreography was well crafted, though once or twice delivered without intention. The cast overcame various malfunctions of props and a slip of the tongue, and expertly carried them off like nothing had happened – only the eagle eyed watcher would’ve noticed!
Other than one or two out-of-the-box uses of the stairs, the staging was clear and well devised – and possibly for the first time in a Thrust staging, I felt no one would be hard done by, no matter where they sat in the theatre.
I don’t think any of us realised how immersed we were in the show, until a clue was gently revealed in a casual conversation, and the audience audibly gasped. It’s a real testament to the show to have that many people pay such rigorous attention to detail. In fact, the whole production was echoed with ‘oohs’ and gasps from the audience, followed by rippled (and sometimes very loud) laughs of relief.
Lady Tressillian (HildegardNeil) was far and away the best actor of the number. She was natural, likeable – though her character was clearly set in her ways, and I only wish she were in the show more. Another stand out cast member for me was Matthew Treeves (Noel White) who’s comedic timing effortlessly trumped his castmates. His naturalistic and laid back approach to his character made you like him, laugh with him, and suspect him all at once.
The other cast members varied in talent, and some were more inconsistent in their delivery – at times playing characters beautifully, and at others contributing well to the stilted delivery that occasionally plagued the dialogue. This can be forgiven slightly in a murder mystery – it’s easily the hardest genre to pull off believably and without pantomime. Whilst all characters were a bit over the top – as they should be – most of the time there was an added layer of truth to the roles to stop the character from becoming a caricature. The only time lines became stilted (still very rarely) was when trickier, more cliched dialogue came up, that veil dropped and we could almost see the lines being read.
In true Christie style there were plenty of self-referencial moments – these perfectly timed comments completely put the audience at ease, knowing the show didn’t, and thus we didn’t, take it far too seriously.
The end of the show, as is usual with a murder mystery, was the best bit. Full of twists, turns and accusations – I’ve never seen an audience flip from laughter to tension so quickly. And for some reason, we ended up laughing during the tense moments too – I couldn’t myself tell you why – perhaps it was the 1940’s over the top style coupled with relief, fear, and the outrageous events unfolding before us. But it was a wonderful climax to the show, leaving everyone giggling, clapping and ‘aww’ing, and it seems people throughout the theatre couldn’t wait until the end of the show even to turn to their friends and exclaim ‘I knew it!’.
I’d definitely recommend Towards Zero to anyone, and even more wholeheartedly suggest it due to the delicious food served beforehand – you’ll be glad you had more time to admire the gorgeous scenery!
Review by Mims Melville
Towards Zero is running a The Mill at Sonning Theatre until the 28th September. To find out more and book tickets visit their website.