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New Era - Next to a Stranger

7th to 16th March 2002.

This is from the NWN.

Panic attack

'NEXT TO A STRANGER', performed by the New Era Players, from Tuesday, March 7 to Saturday, March 16

Valerie Maskell's play was based on the premise that you could be sitting beside a murderer and not know it. I'm pretty sure I wasn't, but by the interval I was rather nervous about going home afterwards. That's the trouble with good theatre, it puts ideas into your head.

And this was a well-crafted, thought-provoking play, and technically impressive, although, not for the first time, I found myself thinking that writers don't necessarily make the best directors for their own plays. Perhaps a fresh vision would have injected more intensity at times.

It was straightforward enough: high-flying young career woman, Stella, married to an older man, Tom, a well-meaning but interfering mother, Anne, and the neighbours - a rather exotic older woman, Rosa, and her younger husband Vic. As this was about things not being what they seem, it wasn't surprising to discover that Stella (Jackie Fripp) was having an affair with Vic (James Winter).

Stella is obsessed with swans; elegant and powerful creatures which seem to glide along effortlessly while paddling like mad under the surface. Get it? Tom (Peter Knightley), on the other hand, doesn't hide anything. I didn't understand everything he said but he had some passion about him, unlike his wife and her lover who were singularly lacking in passion, together or separately. Stella seemed too exhausted the whole time to even think about having an affair!

Mind you there were the unseen but often heard toddlers to deal with. Oh, and the intruder, whose brief appearance caused varying degrees of panic, especially in Anne, very well played by Pam Hillier-Brook, with just the right balance of infuriating snobbery and motherly concern.

Janet Bennett gave a well-judged performance as the perceptive, world-weary Rosa. Despite never finding out who the intruder was, he (she?) inspired the tension in the play, although that diminished towards the end, thanks to the tomato sauce incident. I'm afraid I didn't really care whether Stella and Vic's secret was about to be discovered, but it was an enjoyable evening, and at least we didn't leave in a state of panic.