The Hollow by Alex Pease

So many events have been postponed during this pandemic and its clear that there will be no Easton Pantomime this year, so it was a particular delight that we did not miss out on Anna McGowan’s wonderful production of Agatha Christie’s The Hollow by the Southwood Players in aid of The MS Society, The Winchester Young Carers and Itchen Valley Churches.

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon we arrived at Southwood House to be marshalled into socially distanced seats by a team of young Owens (led by Patrick Appleby) each carrying an oar (or was it a long truncheon) to ensure that we were precisely 2 meters apart.  Once settled down at a safe distance from each other we were able to turn our attention to the play.

The Hollow is just the sort of play at which the Southwood Players excel.  Set in a 1950s country house with enough rooms for half a dozen guests, the characters all looked back nostalgically to a pre-war bliss at Ainswick, a beautiful country house where they had grown up, now inherited by a rather ineffectual young gentleman called Edward Angkatell, played with just the right aristocratic insipidity by James Paterson (rather reminiscent of Tom in Four Weddings and a Funeral).

Had the practice of primogeniture changed by then, perhaps Lucy, Lady Angkatell and Sir Henry Angkatell KCB (played by Lavinia and Nick Owen) might, after his career in the Indian Civil Service, have ended up as the residents of that beautiful house, but it was not to be.  

Sir Henry has clearly had a lifetime of challenges from the chatelaine of the Hollow as he frequently holds his head in his hands over the last thing that Lucy Angkatell has said or done, such as ‘The worst of murder is that it does upset the servants so’ or ‘Sweetie Inspector…?’ 

Sir Henry groans ‘Sometimes my wife’s remarks are rather difficult to interpret…’ However, forgetful and embarrassing she may be, Lady Angkatell has a natural authority with the staff which was very convincing: ‘Tell Simmons…a hot water bottle!!’ Who would not have jumped to at that instruction!

The wet Angkatell loves Henrietta, the glamorous sculptress (played by Maddy Woosnam) whose masterpiece was sensibly out of view for the audience, but Henrietta doesn’t love him – ‘You are nice Edward, but it’s not enough!’ She on the other hand loves the good looking doctor from London John Cristow (played by Iain Macleod) who loves her, but who is also loved to distraction by Gerda his wife (played by Kathy May-Miller) a rather needy woman who cannot bear to be apart from her philandering husband.  Midge Harvey (Phoebe Culshaw) is some sort of young cousin and she loves the squire of Ainswick, but he clearly doesn’t know what is good for him, until finally the penny drops. 

Onto this complicated scene bursts Veronica Kraye, an old flame of Cristow (but who doesn’t think much of his career ‘anyone can be a doctor’ – what a thing to say to an NHS hero!).  Veronica is now a succesful film star and wants Cristow back. She is played dynamically by Nathalie Paterson – as a dead ringer for Marylin Monroe. 

Of course, into this confusing scene of conflicting emotions and potential motives, there is bound to be a murder!  So it was to the tune of the TV series of Poirot that Ian May Millar comes onto the scene with the relentless (Scots accented) enquiry of a 1950s David Tennant in Broadchurch, accompanied by Cat Kennedy as his Detective Sergeant, who looked as if she had just stepped of the set of Line of Duty.  

Hovering in the background is the butler Gudgeon, played by Steve Percy, in a very different role from the pantomime villans that he so often plays.  The loyal Gudgeon speaks with a pained voice at all times and appears almost to disappear into the furniture to avoid upsetting those ‘upstairs’.  Doris (played by Naomi Ellis), on the other hand, shows another side of 1950s domestic service with a brilliantly sour face for every occasion and a sense of what is right (‘let justice be done’) that enjoys dropping others in it. 

As is often the case with Southwood Player productions, Lavinia had all the best lines which she delivered to great effect.  She bounds onto the stage with some classic expressions: ‘the trouble with moles is…’ ‘…what I think about rhodedendrons is…’ and ultimately ‘what a wonderful inquest’!

The whole point with who-dunnits is that you don’t know who dun it.  There was a brilliantly directed moment after the murder when Henrietta and Midge were both looking wistful and thoughtful and I did wonder…

Kathy May-Millar’s rendition of Gerda was fabulous – described by one of the characters as having ‘eyes like a puzzelled cow’ she was convincingly annoying and ineffective until that brilliant moment, which happens in all the best crime dramas, when her true character is revealed to be much cleverer than any of us thought….

It was a fabulous production.  Thank you to everyone who took part.  The cast were superb, rehearsing by zoom over several months – incredibly hard word.  Thank you to Anna for another brilliantly directed play which has been the cherry on the top of a staycation summer for us.  Thank you to Charlotte Appleby, Judy Bishop, Patrick Appleby, Jill Croft, Helen Smyth, Chris Ellis, Sarah Hunt and so many others who put it all together.

We may not be able to do everything during this emergency, but we can do this and we are better for it.  Thank you all.

On behalf of Itchen Valley Churches and the other charities, thank you so much for raising money for us all at a very difficult time.

Alex Pease

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