Towards Zero: True to period production would have benefitted from some editing

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo courtesy of Ottawa Little Theatre

Towards Zero
By Agatha Christie and Gerald Verner
Ottawa Little Theatre
Directed by Sarah Hearn

You know the drill of a classic whodunit: A small group of people, most of them with a grudge or a secret, gathers in an elegant country or seaside house, probably on a dark and stormy night. At least one among them is murdered (usually off stage) and it seems that the killer is an insider.

All these elements are in place in Towards Zero, the 1956 dramatization by Agatha Christie and Gerald Verner of Christie’s 1944 novel of the same name. In addition, the emphasis is on murder as the culmination of a series of long-ago events leading to a violent conclusion. Further, Towards Zero includes what must have been a shocking social faux pas in the 1950s. One of the guests, Neville Strange — the former ward of the widowed hostess Lady Tressilian’s husband — has brought his new wife, Kay, to join the party, knowing that his ex-wife, Audrey, will also be there. In addition, Kay’s disappointed ex-boyfriend, Ted, is a frequent visitor.

True to Christie form, the exposition-heavy script is peppered with clues and distractions. The greatest of these is the almost constant bad mood and temper tantrums from Kay, played in the Ottawa Little Theatre production by Carrie Babbitt. She is so definite in her nasty characterization and shrillness in a performance that loses the line between acting and over-acting that it is impossible to imagine her as the reason that Neville left Audrey.

In many respects, Towards Zero is a comedy of manners spiced with soap opera. Therefore, the consistently fine characterizations from Ann Scholberg as Lady Tressilian and from Mike Kennedy as her old friend are very welcome in adding depth and interest to the show.

As Neville, Kurt Shantz brings some colour to a role that does not come to life until late in the play and Jinesea Lewis, as Audrey, is appropriately charming and warm in establishing a strong contrast to wife number two.

The rest of the cast fulfill their roles and their primary purpose of serving the plotline adequately but have a hard time bringing much sparkle to essentially uninteresting characters.

Towards Zero is enhanced by Becky Mardell’s excellent set and the period costumes by Monica Browness, Jane Sadler and Janet Uren. As directed by Sarah Hearn, the production is in keeping with period and style, but a little judicious cutting might have helped to speed matters towards zero hour and beyond. Certainly, it would have been wise to eliminate such items as the description of Ted as being dark and romantic, when the actor playing the part is blond.

To find whodunit in Towards Zero, visit Ottawa Little Theatre by May 13.

Director: Sarah Hearn

Set: Becky Mardell

Lighting: Barry Sims

Sound: Lindsay Wilson

Costumes: Monica Browness, Jane Sadler, Janet Uren

Cast:

Thomas Royde………………………………………Roy Van Hooydonk

Kay Strange………………………………………….Carrie Babbitt

Mary Aldin…………………………………………..Maria Israel

Matthew Treves……………………………………..Mike Kennedy

Neville Strange………………………………………Kurt Shantz

Lady Tressilian………………………………………Ann Scholberg

Audrey Strange………………………………………Jinesea Lewis

Ted Latimer………………………………………….Jesse Lalonde

Superintendent Battle………………………………..Guy Newsham

Inspector Leach/PC Benson…………..Kyle Fournier/Ian McMullen


Past Reviews