The Chilliwack Players Guild is bringing its third radio play to the stage for two performances in January.
The theatre company presents Mystery in Pimlico, a radio play by Austin Stone, at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre on Jan. 14.
“Radio plays are always a neat, historical thing,” said director Astrid Beugeling.
The actors are all onstage at the same time sitting in a row and they stand up and walk to the microphone to read their lines. The folio artist (sound effects person) is at a table on a riser behind the row of actors.
Mystery in Pimlico is part of a series of five radio plays that the Chilliwack Players Guild is doing or has already done. They presented the first one, An Affair of Honour, in January 2019 and the second one, A Pearl in the Hand, a year later. COVID-19 put the kibosh on productions in 2021 and into part of 2022. Upcoming radio plays The Gallows Does Well and French Poison will be coming to the stage at a later date.
All five of the radio plays, along with four others, were written by Austin Stone in the UK and all are based on true crime stories. They aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) around the 1950s. Stone was a crime novelist and BBC playwright from 1936 to 1955. When he died in 1979, a large box of paperwork was given to one of his sons and later handed over to another son, Ed Stone of Chilliwack, who put it in his basement and forgot about it for 11 years.
In 2014, Ed was working on his family tree. He had recently joined the Sardis Genealogy Group when he finally opened up the box in search of his father’s birth certificate. There in the box, amid notes and letters, were two unpublished book manuscripts and nine radio play scripts his father had written.
Ed and Beugeling know each other from the genealogy group, which is how the radio plays made it to the Chilliwack Players Guild.
Beugeling said the story of Austin Stone’s radio plays is “fascinating.”
Mystery in Pimlico was originally broadcast live on BBC on May 8, 1952 and was based on the famous Pimlico poisoning death in 1886 of Thomas Edwin Bartlett, possibly at the hands of his wife Adelaide.
The story: Adelaide (played by famous English actress Mary Wimbush) was born in 1855 France. She was encouraged by her husband Edwin to openly engage in romantic acts with Wesleyan Reverend George Dyson, who was also charged with Adelaide in the poisoning death of Edwin. He had provided larger quantities of liquid chloroform than had been prescribed by Dr. Leach for an on-going illness. At trial, Adelaide was defended by Sir Edward Clarke (originally played by well-known English actor Geoffrey Lewis), who suggested that Edwin Bartlett had committed suicide, which led to an acquittal. The play gives background to the ‘mystery‘ and proceeds to the trial itself.
All the character names are the real names of the people in the true crime story. Unlike past radio plays the guild has done, this one will include costumes.
“Some of the actors are playing several roles. The costumes are going to help the audience understand who they are visually,” Beugeling said.
Costume changes will take place onstage and will be very minimal. One actor, for example, will wear a black dress and remove and add accessories as needed, such as a coat and fancy hat when she’s outside playing one character, and a white apron when she plays the role of the maid.
Dave Stephen is the folio artist and he’ll be at a table with props like shoes, dishes and a miniature door. The microphone is always on and he has to be careful not to knock anything over.
“You have to be really quiet when you’re around that microphone,” Stephen said.
Also at his table will be a laptop for sounds that he couldn’t possibly produce on his own, such as a coach with horses coming down the road, or train stations from the 1800s or boat horns.
“People haven’t done this for 50 years. It’s almost like vinyl has come back,” Ed Stone said back in 2019 when the guild released the first radio play. “The beauty of a radio play is you close your eyes and you have to imagine.”
He pointed out that the plays are perfect for people who are blind or visually impaired.
In 2020, Stone reached out to the Canadian Federation of the Blind and the Chilliwack chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind to invite them to A Pearl in the Hand and Beugeling said Stone plans to do the same for the upcoming radio play.
All five radio plays in the guild’s series were presented on ChillTV in 2021, keeping many actors somewhat active during the pandemic, Stone added.
Mystery in Pimlico, a radio play written by Austin Stone and presented by the Chilliwack Players Guild, is at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre in the Rotary Hall Studio Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 14 at 1 p.m. and again at 3 p.m. The play runs about one hour and 20 minutes and there will be coffee, tea and treats before the show.
Tickets are $12 and available at the box office, chilliwackculturalcentre.ca or at 604-391-7469.