WITH East Dean & Friston Village Hall a short seagull flight from Birling Gap, where the towering Seven Sisters cliffs rise on each side, and the iconic Coastguard cottages perched above Cuckmere Haven are only a few miles away, it would be difficult to find a more appropriate venue to stage this play.
First performed in 1957, The House on the Cliff, performed by East Dean Players, is billed as a ‘mystery comedy’ although ‘drawing-room whodunnit’ would be more apt.
John Dann’s set, with immaculately painted scenery by Paul Liddiard and props by Jan Smith, provided a setting worthy of many professional productions, dispelling am-dram myths of wobbly doors and streaky backcloths.
Written by American George Batson, with some of his country’s idioms, e.g. ‘porch’ meaning balcony, and ‘closet’ hall cupboard, irritatingly retained unaltered, the play relied heavily on dramatic effects, rumbling thunder and lightning, creepy music and strange gunshots, to create a spooky atmosphere.
Unfortunately, a flimsy script, littered with red-herrings and mistaken-identities, was too clever by half to convince that the tale of a girl, confined to a wheelchair following a car accident which killed her father, had mysterious overtones.
In the disabled role, Lindsey Holledge as Ellen Clayton deserved high praise, not least for the adroit steering of her wheelchair around the stage.
So too did Marilynne Sharpin, with clipped Scottish vowels a dead-ringer for Dr Findlay’s Janet, portraying solitaire-playing Nurse Pepper, the carer appointed to look after the invalid.
Owner of the house-on-the-cliff, Karen Clayton (Susan Everest), and her housekeeper, Jenny (Monica Pullen), were well-cast in their differing roles, as were scheming, supposedly-locum doctor, Corey Phillips (Alan Lade), and Ellen’s GP, Doctor Lane (John Surtees).
All played characters once commonplace in a world of hand-cranked cars, operator-answered telephones and martini-cocktail shakers.
This production, more convoluted Cluedo than cutting edge drama, was firmly directed by Cheryl Veitch.