Midland Players’ Spygame – 28 January 2022, University of Sheffield Drama Studio

Review by Melanie Hopkins.

This comedy-mystery comprising of a seven person cast, by Bettine Mantelow, had high ambitions for a very psychological yet hilarious piece of theatre, did it meet the expectations? I think so.

Spygame: Five randomly selected contestants are brought to a remote place in the country under the guise that they are filming a ‘How To Be a Spy’ style tv show with a winner collecting a handsome amount of money. But what happens when contestants start to gain suspicions of why they are really there as all isn’t as it seems… 

As the house lights went down on Friday night inside the drama studio, the grand red theatre curtains first opened to reveal four of the seven cast members waiting inside what seemed like a country home. A leafy green colour painted on the walls, a dark wood dining table and various landscape pictures littered the set. I particularly liked the double french doors that depicted a patio, it gave it an edge and a nice touch especially during the night scenes.

Each character sat in different places in the room looking somewhere between ‘nonchalant’ to awaiting doom. A woman sat patiently yet looking rather suspicious centre stage, a nervously fidgeting lady clutching her handbag and waiting in anticipation to the left, a smartly dressed man in a suit with electric blue loafers reading the newspaper on the right and a young lady with bright pink hair in leather jeans and a statement necklace sat beside him: quite an eclectic bunch. And in walks in our fifth cast member, as if straight out of the seventies with a bandana around his head and a cool breeze in his step. And so the action begins… 

Elliott Dale Hughes, playing Lloyd, first breaks the silence (and which we come to learn, rules) with a bold pep in his step. Lloyd is an actor, someone who has bags of charisma and charm– demonstrated by Elliott’s exaggerated and sweeping gestures, it was excellent to see some unashamedly grandiosity to the character. Lloyd takes the cake for the most ‘rebellious’ person in the room. 

However, not far behind is Ruth Jepson, playing Claire. With bright pink hair and an effervescent personality to match, this make-up mogul is the ‘dark horse’ of the cast. As the play goes along we see Claire form an alliance with Lloyd as they focus on their keen detective skills on finding out what really is going on around them. They become the kind of ring leaders of the bunch. Claire is a clever character, adept to harmless deception and one that you would never catch off of her guard. She seems as though she is always ten steps ahead, displayed by Ruth’s cunning smile and witty comebacks. 

With electric blue loafers and a blase manner, Mel McCart, playing Steve a sly journalist, indeed likes a challenge. This slick character was played well and Mel added a brush of overconfidence in the character’s mannerisms which added a nice balance in the cast. I wish there had been more for Steve to ‘suss’ out as such as sometimes it felt as though he was cast aside in the story in order to help move along the plot, however I’ll blame the playwright for that one. 

Another character I desperately wished had more stage time also was Alison Brelsford, playing Daphne the poet. Her suspicious attitude combined with relatively down to earth demeanor felt as though she was going to be a bigger part in the story than what she was. I thought I had singled her out as a character who was perhaps the çalm, rational part in any chaotic situation to figure out problems in a practical and methodical sense. However she was again like Steve, brushed away in order to further the plot. Two strikes for the playwright there. 

The star of the show I have to say was Lara Bundock playing nervous and excitable TV super fan, Sadie. The energy Lara displayed throughout was always on level 10 and she never let it slip for a second. One of my favourite parts was of course the side-splitting faint behind the sofa that was done so flawlessly and made the whole audience erupt in laughter. 

The seemingly European maid Marie who only knew in English ‘please’ and ‘coffee’ was well played in a blunt and honest fashion by Nicky Hindmarch. A nice comic relief from the offset and during as the chaos and confusion ensued for the rest of the cast. 

And of course the grand mastermind of the whole affair Major Daniels, played by Alex Wilson, darned with a cane and a superb RP accent– Alex really knows his comedic timing. 

All in all, the plot took some unexpectedly chaotic and enthralling turns. Oliver Jenkinson’s directorial debut was a hit with the audience for a classic comedy interwoven with a psychological playground of madness, suspicions and descent, or rather return to insanity

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