The Many Crimes of Hector Cartwright, VAULT Festival

By guest critic Jo Trainor

It’s 1948. The body of a woman has been found tied to a train track, and a French manuscript has been sent to the police station investigating the crime. A little British village is still struggling with the aftermath of WW2, but in their midst is a man who’s hiding from his own war efforts.

Theatre company Rusted Dust have done a Columbo with the title – there’s Nazis, there’s murder, there’s the station’s first female Detective Constable. Buried in The Many Crimes of Hector Cartwright is a brilliant plot, funny lines and good characters, but work needs to be done to bring out its full potential.

There was the occasional line fluff and name mix up, but there were some strong performances from Rusted Dust’s small but talented cast. The piece’s issues lie in the scene changes and staging. Almost everything is performed side on, and for an audience sat end on we’re missing reactions and emotions because we’re only seeing half of everything.

What would improve the show hugely is if they were to scrap the set changes. The flashbacks to Northern France during Nazi occupation are fundamental to the plot, but stopping the play to move a table a fraction of an inch and swivel a picture frame to indicate a new location just isn’t worth it. The director needs to let the script and acting do the storytelling rather than relying on props. In a murder mystery, particularly one where trains are at the heart of it, the pace needs to speed like a locomotive to build tension, even when the show is set in a sleepy village. The constant stopping and starting makes the energy on stage drop repeatedly.

The Crescent is such a great space at the VAULT and has plenty of room for the cast to simply do a split stage; they could move effortlessly from France to Britain without having to wait for a vase of flowers to be brought on.

Hopefully The Many Crimes of Hector Cartwright will have another life, and the cast and creative team will have time to improve the pace and energy of the production so that the quality of the show doesn’t let down what is essentially an interesting story.

The Many Crimes of Hector Cartwright runs through 5 March.

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