Independent Theatre
Goodwood Institute Theatre
Until 04 May 2019

Review by Jamie Wright

Perhaps the quintessential noir detective novel – and one that spawned hundreds of imitators – Dashiell Hammett’s story of an unsentimental, tough-as-nails detective drawn unwillingly into a case he has to use all his wits to solve – “The Maltese Falcon” is probably most famous for the 1941 film adaptation starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. Independent Theatre has made the bold move to bring the novel to the stage, resulting in many positives – albeit with the source material providing some complications.

Rob Croser, directing from his own adaptation of the novel, keeps things rolling at a good pace for most of the time – but towards the end the sheer volume of exposition, some of it quite repetitive, slows things down so much that even the most generous amount of character movement isn’t enough to keep it from dragging. And there are points at which it seems everyone’s shouting when more varied delivery would be appropriate.

Patrick Marlin is solid as Spade, a difficult role to play given how – to put it bluntly – fundamentally unlikeable the man is by today’s standards, a ‘tough guy’ who seems to care little about the feelings (or even the lives of) his associates.

Madeleine Herd is engaging as the feisty, deceptive Brigid. Emma Bleby has some good moments as Spade’s secretary, Effie. David Roach does well to differentiate his four different characters while John Oster doesn’t quite give his own handful of roles as much variation, which made one particular early scene more than a little confusing.

The trio of villains are excellent – Will Cox is a bundle of barely-suppressed rage and vehemence; Andre Vafiadis gives a few nods to Peter Lorre in his portrayal of the fey Joel Cairo; and Stuart Pearce is wonderfully eloquent as Casper Gutman.

Bob Weatherley’s lighting is nothing short of exceptional, giving the production a truly noir feel throughout. The costuming by Sandra Davis and Angela Doherty is also great. Sets (including very intelligent use of slides) by Rob Croser and David Roach are also excellent for providing the tone and authenticity, as well as allowing for the many quick scene changes; however, the scarcity of cover for the actors moving side of stage is a problem as it signals when someone’s about to enter, often diminishing the tension.

While it might puzzle the casual theatregoer, or someone unfamiliar with the noir detective genre, for fans of the hard-boiled, tough-guy gumshoe detective story in general – and the source material in particular – it’s a rare opportunity to see it brought to life in a faithful manner.