Has this popular thriller stood the test of time?

Portait of a Murder, 
Seaford Little Theatre

Robert Bloomfield’s 1960s thriller celebrated its golden jubilee with a summer run-out at Seaford last week, and its exquisite twist in the tail drew gasps from the packed houses.

Paula Barlow, a rich and famous author, loses her memory in a dreadful accident.

Her solicitous husband Eliot reassures her that eventually her memory will return, as does her friend Denise and her flamboyant artist neighbour Tod – who painted her portrait.

But who made the mysterious phone call that Eliot took on the morning of the fire? Jim Guthrie, Paula’s agent, fills in some more details and Paula’s unease grows stronger.

Whose picture reveals the truth?

Marilynne Sharpin as the novelist Paula Barlow took the honours as her split-personality existence unfolds in flashback.

She coped effortlessly with the stark changes in persona from before and after the ‘accident’ and was smoothly impressive as she masterminded the denouement with aplomb.

Roland Boorman was her actor husband, Elliot, who plotted the murder, while Kay Wetherilt was Denise, the ‘other woman’ in his life.

Here, the plot creaked a little, as popular thrillers often do.

For me, their interactions lacked the necessary spark of danger and madness and I remained unconvinced that this pair were involved in such a passionate affair that he was prepared to kill for this woman.

Sharon Besant, as Paula’s oppressed secretary, who dreams of being a poet, played a straight bat with the right degree of submission and duplicity, and John Hamilton, as Paula’s literary agent, gave us his customary smoothly professional with a hint of kindness tinged with occasional exasperation.

Dug Godfrey, the artist-friend, who drifted in and out with carnations and red roses, was suitably annoying and vaguely camp – deliberately so.

The set was well up to the usual standard at Seaford – a convincing period barn making the most of the awkwardly shaped stage, and the technical expertise was spot on.

We all love a good thriller – and this one, now half a century old – has just about stood the test of time.

By Derek Watts