Susan Hill – the author of The Woman in Black – has an army of admirers, and they should all be making a bee-line this week to the Devonshire Park Theatre for another scary delight, writes Kevin Anderson
The Small Hand is the best pure thriller the Devonshire has hosted this year.
Peter James’s Perfect Murder was superb, but a different and funnier branch of the genre, The Small Hand does all the spooky, shivery things and it does them to perfection.
Susan Hill leaves the stage transfer to others, but with adaptors Clive Francis and Roy Marsden, her work is in safe hands.
The picture-painting of the novel translates perfectly, and there is real poetry in the narrative: vivid stylish language and never a trite line.
The central character, Adam Snow, is played by the highly-experienced Andrew Lancel, of Inspector Alleyn Mysteries fame, but on Wednesday understudy Alexander Jonas took the part – and took command of the stage.
Just a fraction too young for the role, if we are quibbling, but he exactly captures the character: the normal, balanced man who steadily doubts his own sanity.
In a production which pivots on big dramatic moments, Jonas stays just short of melodramatic, and he unites strong delivery with excellent body language.
The other two actors expertly combine narration with a range of other parts as a complicated story unfolds.
Diane Keen runs the gamut of British accents from lilting Welsh to homely Scots to Northern, and her parts are nicely understated and human.
Robert Duncan is an equally sonorous narrator and a brisk, credible participant in the story, as Adam Snow unravels the tangle of little cameo scenes from his past.
But alongside this high-quality acting, this production really scores on the total, enveloping effect: surround-sound and atmospheric lighting, with mystifying images back-projected, insistently beckon us in.
You don’t watch this play from a distance. Illusion and reality touch, shrink away, touch again, and finally we are as snared and shaken as Adam Snow himself. Brilliant drama.
The Small Hand continues at devonshire Park Theatre until Saturday (November 14).