THEATER REVIEW: “Spider’s Web” at the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Gail M. Burns
Dame Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was a fascinating woman in all regards (only the Bible has outsold her collected works), and her work is as much fun today as it was in the mid-20th century when she wrote it.
Spider’s Web (1954) has a murder and a mystery, but it is primarily a character-based play commissioned by screen actress Margaret Lockwood, well-known for her villainess roles, who wanted to make her West End theatrical debut in a light part in a “comedy thriller” by Christie. Lockwood’s request came in 1953, the year after The Hollow and The Mousetrap (yes, it is STILL running!) opened in London, and Christie wrote the play during the period of the final rehearsals for her next hit play, Witness for the Prosecution. She named the central character to be played by Lockwood Clarissa, after her mother (Agatha Christie was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller).
That the resulting work is not one of Christie’s best plays is understandable. She was distracted by ongoing rehearsals, she was required to create a comic heroine for Lockwood, and Lockwood had further stipulated that she write roles for Wilfred Hyde-White, with whom she wanted to work, and her 14-year-old daughter, Julia, neither of whom ever played the roles that were written for them.
At the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, director Allen Phelps has assembled an uneven cast – the best of whom are among our best regional actors – who make this production a pleasant evening of summer stock fun.