Dead Guilty, The Capitol, Horsham, Tuesday, April 16
Dead Guilty is a slow-burning thriller written by Richard Harris and directed by Patric Kearns.
It tells the story of Julia Darrow who has suffered a leg injury from a car crash that happened when the driver died at the wheel.
She strikes up an unlikely friendship with the driver’s wife Margaret Haddrell, while talking things through with her therapist and alternately resisting and encouraging the affections of her male helper.
The production starts like a slightly comedic drama, but gradually moves into psychological thriller territory as strange things start happening and we begin to question Julia’s sanity.
Anna Brecon, best known for playing Lady Tara in Emmerdale, puts in a strong performance as Julia Darrow.
She effectively portrays a woman consumed by guilt who is struggling to hold her emotions at bay.
Her character tries to use sarcasm and humour to hide her true feelings, but frequently fails at doing so as she becomes increasingly impatient and irrational when events take a turn for the worse.
Anna Brecon gives a very convincing physical performance too, clearly conveying the pain and stiffness in her legs with every wince, groan and awkward effort to move across the stage.
Ben Roddy is also good as Gary, Julia’s immature but likeable man for odd jobs around the flat. His character is a bit dim, but there’s something sweetly funny about his schoolboy crush on Julia.
He gets laugh when he explains that he’s Julia’s ‘Daily Male’ and then a bigger laugh when he feels the need to explain the obvious pun.
However, it’s Jenny Funnell (best known as Sandy in the sitcom As Time Goes By) as Margaret who gives the best performance in the play.
She’s very good at portraying a character who is obsessive and repressed but motherly, with the occasional hint of darkness that makes us wonder about her true motivations.
She gives the production an eerie atmosphere every time she’s on stage and keeps the audience unsettled even when she’s being nice.
In fact, there’s an ambiguity to both performances from Anna Brecon and Jenny Funnell, which keeps the audience guessing about whether the events are imagined or whether there really is a sinister scheme at work.
The play takes its time in building up to the climax, which could be frustrating for an audience who want something more immediately exciting. While it’s intriguing to find out about the characters, the plot seems to take a long time to get going and the first act plays more like an intelligent character study than a gripping drama.
However, for fans of well-observed and subtle acting, this production is well worth checking out.
By Lawrence Smith