On Stage: Double Indemnity

The Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Double Indemnity is most enjoyable thanks to an entertaining script, strong performances and clever staging.

Melbourne Theatre Company's Double Indemnity

Melbourne Theatre Company’s Double Indemnity*

The production is a stage adaption of James M. Cain’s 1936 novella Double Indemnity written by Australian playwright Tom Holloway. It  tells of disgruntled insurance salesman, Walter Huff, who schemes with femme fatale, Phyllis Nirdlinger, to murder Phyllis’s wealthy husband, Nirdlinger and collect his hefty, double indemnity accident insurance.
As I hadn’t read Cain’s book nor seen the 1944 movie of the same name (which is regarded as a fine example of film noir), I wasn’t sure what to expect. Thus the play’s twist and turns came as a surprise and added to my enjoyment of the production.

Leon Ford as Huff*

Leon Ford as Huff*

Given the nature of the story I was also surprised at the many witty lines expertly delivered by the cast, which includes Leon Ford as Huff, Claire van der Boom as Phyllis and Richard Piper as Nirdlinger. Ford’s role seems particularly demanding. He starts the show by addressing the audience directly in a narrator’s role. His character evolves from a very confident insurance salesman with the perfect plan to a killer who is paying for his actions and losing his grip on what’s happening around him.

Jessica Tovey, Claire van der Boom and Leon Ford in Double Indemnity.

Jessica Tovey, Claire van der Boom and Leon Ford in Double Indemnity.*

Van der Boom is glamorous and sophisticated as the manipulative and greedy Phyllis, while Richard Piper is suitably rude and overconfident as Nirdlinger. Peter Kowitz also gives an excellent performance as Keyes – Walter’s emotional and street wise boss – as does Edwina Samuels as Huff’s secretary, Nettie and Jessica Tovey as Nirdlinger’s daughter Lola.
A cleverly designed revolving stage caters for the play’s many and varied scenes, which include a stately mansion, small insurance office, a car and even a moving train.
While the subject matter may be serious – after all there’s nothing funny about murder – this production is at times funny, at times surprising and generally very entertaining.

Double Indemnity is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre until July 2. For more information and tickets visit the MTC website.

*Photos by Jeff Busby.

Jenny Burns attended the opening of Double Indemnity as a guest of the MTC.

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