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Guilty Secret

A criminal mastermind lies behind the plot to kidnap the daughter of a multi-millionaire business tycoon and hold her to ransom. Like a grand puppeteer the perpetrator  cleverly manipulates his or is it her puppets in this new psychological thriller by Roger Mortimer-Smith which made its world premier at The Mill at Sonning on 9th June 2011 but exactly who is the puppeteer and who are the puppets?

As plot and counter plot, bluff and double bluff unfold, the audience is held enthralled not just at the complexities of the plan but at this brilliant cast’s ability to deliver, at pace, lengthy monologue after lengthy monologue ( particularly in respect of Jeffrey Holland as the charming yet chilling George), on which the ingenious script is structured.

Set in a remote farmhouse, miles from the nearest civilization, George has devised the perfect ‘get rich quick’ crime, a simple foolproof kidnap and ransom demand in a bid to realize his dream of living the highlife. Enlisting the help of Lennie, his willing but intellectually inept accomplice, the two embark on their scheme of extortion by abducting Charlotte, a beautiful young heiress, as she leaves her father’s mansion for a night out on the town. Bound, gagged and bundled into the boot of her own car, she is whisked away to the unknown location where upon a ‘guilty secret’ is revealed leading to blackmail, espionage and murder. Matters are further complicated by the later arrival of Inspector Crichton, a personable fellow whose investigative approach might well be best described as a trifle unorthodox.

With Jeffrey renowned primarily as a comedy actor, for too long audiences have been denied his compelling dramatic portrayals and this surely ranks with the best. Why is it we always look to pigeon hole an actor when quite clearly the clue lies within the description ‘actor’ itself! I digress. Cutting an imposing figure as the ruthless George, his measured and calculated performance creates a highly plausible yet unpredictable character of great finesse, emitting an unnerving air of trepidation that ripples throughout the intimate confines of The Mill’s auditorium at regular intervals.

Equally convincing are the superb performances given by the three remaining members of the cast. Katie Beard as the outwardly terrified hostage Charlotte, displays a perfect blend of anxiety and hysterics coupled with a surprising amount of rationalization while Neil Andrew as the nice but naïve Lennie, expertly provides the odd red herring or should that be jar of jam? Philip Childs completes the line up in a thoroughly credible performance as Inspector Crichton who does much to lighten the increasingly darkening mood while still managing to add to the intrigue of it all.

All this is conducted under the eminently skilful direction of Anthony Valentine perhaps better known for his role as an actor in such television series as Raffles and Colditz in addition to numerous West End and film appearances.

Neither should we forget the superbly designed set by Dinah England or the clever lighting effects of Matthew Bliss which also greatly enhance the overall atmosphere of the staging.

Thought provoking and totally gripping, this production is a must see for all lovers of good theatre.

Photos © Norman Weston