Lamb To the Slaughter

Playhouse Theatre, Dunedin

16/03/2023 - 18/03/2023

Dunedin Fringe Festival 2023

Production Details

Adapted by Suitcase Theatre from the Roald Dahl short story Lamb to the Slaughter.
Directed by Laura Wells of Suitcase Theatre.

Suitcase Theatre Trust

Suitcase Theatre presents another landmark production for the 2023 Dunedin Fringe Festival with their own adaptation of Roald Dahl’s masterful short story Lamb to the Slaughter.

Set in the 1950’s, Slaughter follows the investigation of a police officer’s death and has an undercurrent of domestic violence, focusing on the police officer’s young pregnant wife. Expect moments of humour intertwined with realisations of trauma, grief and stereotypes.

Join us in inviting new characters, added intrigue and an ending cleverly twisted around to keep you on the edge of your seat.

This will be the first community performance of Lamb to the Slaughter in New Zealand!

Suitcase is proud to present a talented cast of local performers, and equally proud to be partnering with local charity Stopping Violence Dunedin so we can help to raise awareness of, and support, the critical work they provide to our community. |

The Playhouse Theatre, 31 Albany Street, Dunedin.
Show dates:
Thursday 16th March – 6:30PM
Friday 17th March – 6PM & 7:30PM
Saturday 18th March – 4PM & 7PM
$20 / $15

Cast (in order of appearance):
Mary Maloney - Kimberley Buchan
Sam the grocer - Chris Cook
Patrick Maloney - Daniel McClymont
Det. Stan Mathas - Cheyne Jenkinson
Vargas - Rosie Collier
Peter - Ashley Stewart
George - Chris Cook
Photographer - Sofie Welvaert
Doctor - Denise Casey

Director / Marketing - Laura Wells
Set Design / Construction / Costumes / Stage Manager - Sofie Welvaert
Lighting Design & Operation - Dylan Shield
Sound Design & Operation - Dylan Shield
Featuring vocals from Grace Sprague in a re-recording of Sia's 'Unstoppable'

Community-based theatre , Theatre ,

60 minutes

A light-hearted and gleeful production

Review by Terry MacTavish 18th Mar 2023

The perfect 1950s housewife and expectant mother, anxiously anticipating her husband’s every need – what could be more lamblike?  But to anyone familiar with Roald Dahl’s work, the title alone of his famous short story, Lamb to the Slaughter, simply reeks of his darkly sardonic humour.

Dahl’s twisted tale has at its centre demure, pregnant Mary Maloney, a wife who is nothing but a passive foil to her policeman-husband, “content to sit quietly…she loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man, and to feel – almost as a sunbather feels the sun – that warm male glow that came out of him to her…” What a little lamb.

However will she react, when she returns from buying vegetables for their roast dinner, a tasty leg-of-lamb, to find this godlike husband lying murdered in her tidy living room? His fellow officers, quickly summoned to investigate, are sure to treat her kindly if somewhat dismissively, although their minds are bent on discovering the murder weapon, a blunt instrument that has mysteriously vanished.

Experienced director Laura Wells, who has also adapted the script, maintains our suspense by reserving Dahl’s original first scene for a flashback at the end, in which all becomes clear. While that may detract from Dahl’s plan of making us complicit in the cover-up, from this audience’s spontaneous reaction it seems many have neither read the short story, nor seen Hitchcock’s version of it, so despite some audible guessing, the ending evokes delighted surprise and laughter.

Despite his many assertive or vengeful women characters, I remain unconvinced that Dahl was deeply invested in gender politics, but Suitcase Theatre most certainly is, with a proud track record over the years of producing such plays as The Vagina Monologues and Dear Boobs, in collaboration with community groups including Women’s Refuge, Mental Awareness Week, and Stopping Violence Dunedin.

Mary Maloney could be a pitiful creature, a browbeaten Stepford wife with no thought except the pleasing of her chauvinistic husband, but from the start Kimberley Buchan brings a sinister undercurrent to the role that is simply riveting. Unnerving in her apparent calm docility, she holds centre stage in her prim blue frock, clutching a cushion to her pregnant belly while the rest mill around her, almost shadowy figures by comparison.

Daniel McClymont as Patrick Maloney has a menacing, brooding quality, but it is Mary’s fearful efforts to placate her husband that really make him appear intimidating. Her composure under interrogation after his murder is most unsettling: “Patrick would never forgive me…if I allowed you to remain in his house without offering you decent hospitality”, and gradually we realise it is she who is pulling the strings.

Meantime Cheyne Jenkinson, as Stan the detective, with Ashley Stewart and Chris Cook as his two inept policemen, are clearly having great fun parodying hapless Mr Plods, teetering on the brink of Keystone Cops slapstick but never actually lurching over, as they come to all the wrong conclusions, drink up the dead man’s whisky and eventually are coaxed by his wife to polish off the leg-of-lamb that has been gently cooking throughout their investigation. (Cue some impressive belching!)

Colleagues of murdered police officer Maloney, they cheerfully admire his lack of marital fidelity and dismissively patronise his wife. 

The exception to their male clique is an invention by Wells, a lone female officer, tersely played by Rosie Collier, who serves to reinforce their picture of Maloney as a ladies’ man, despite Mary’s pathetic insistence that he was faithful.

The very capable cast has been well-rehearsed and all commit enthusiastically to their roles, with Denise Casey and Sofie Welvaert making brief but effective appearances as the police doctor and photographer, and Cook doubling as a cheery grocer. (Now there’s the real shock, vegetables and cheesecake only two shillings!) 

I am charmed to see the attractive set of three rooms has been constructed on one of my favourite devices, a revolving stage, especially built by versatile Welvaert and Helen Davies, and possibly the first we have seen here since the demise of the Fortune. What amounts to a giant Lazy Susan seems particularly suited to a domestic tale about dinner, and I appreciate the neat detail of the stage rotating clockwise as time passes, only to reverse, spinning anti-clockwise when time winds back (and the cool fifties musical track with it!) for the final ‘revelation’ scene.

The production is altogether exceptionally well supported by Welvaert and Dylan Shield’s impressive design, construction and operation mahi for set, costume, lighting, sound, stage management, and probably buying popsicles for the actors. 

Without losing sight of the gruesomely ironic and macabre aspects of the story, Wells has emphasised the comedy, achieving a most light-hearted and gleeful production that clearly delights the large audience, and the exit buzz is tangible. A Fringe success, satisfying as a good roast dinner.

Perhaps the patrons’ approval of the ending is partly due to the contemporary trend for women detectives who see the world differently from their male counterparts – though as far back as 1916 A Jury of Her Peers shows women detecting (and concealing) the crime committed by a bullied wife, through clues overlooked by the male lawmen. And what of that barbeque in Fried Green Tomatoes?! Whatever, following on International Women’s Week, it is gratifying to see Mary is wahine toa, one lamb that does not go meekly to the slaughter! 


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