And the Verdict is: it’s a real hit

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FOR the past six years, the best of Agatha Christie has been presented by a company dedicated to her name, and Verdict at Derby Theatre this week fully lives up to expectations.

You might feel such thrillers have been done to death but Agatha Christie Theatre Company inject a fresh approach, demonstrated on previous visits to the area.

The cast includes a host of names familiar to stage and the small screen but it is Dawn Steele (Alice Collins in ITV’s Wild At Heart) who earns the lion’s share of the plaudits.

Verdict differs from typical Christie in that it is not a ‘whodunnit’ but more of a ‘who will take the rap’. It makes for an entertaining play, even though the audience is in on it relatively early and sometimes, during the second half, you wonder just where else it can go. But then this is Christie and there’s always a twist.

Brilliant and idealistic Professor Karl Hendryk (Robert Duncan) has fled political oppression in his eastern European homeland, with his invalid wife Anya (Cassie Raine) and her cousin Lisa Koletzky (Steele). Highly qualified, Lisa spurns more lucrative positions in order to act as Anya’s carer and Karl’s assistant.

There is an obvious chemistry between the pair but their true feelings are disguised. Then things boil over when the prospect of a life-saving treatment for his wife persuades Karl to take on a new young pupil, against his better judgment.

Enter the spoilt, conniving, rich Helen, superbly played by Ali Bastian, who soon has Karl in her sights and will stop at nothing to get her own way.

Anya’s death leaves a question of suicide or murder and now the suspense hinges on justice and what verdict will be delivered.

Soon Hendryk is seen as too idealistic for his own good and there are some moving scenes between Duncan and Steele, who have the eastern European accents just right, as the tension builds.

The action takes place in the living room of Hendryk’s London flat in 1958, a time when the death penalty was still in force for murder.

Mark Wynter gives a fine performance as the doctor and family friend, there are flashes of hilarity from Elizabeth Power as the nosey home help Mrs Roper, and Matthew Lewis and Peter Byrne also star.

Verdict can be seen at Derby Theatre until Saturday, April 9.