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Victoria's secret

An act of violence and its mysterious consequences play out at Victoria’s House in the Langley Players' latest offering
From left: Gemma Martini as the housekeeper Mrs. Case

A Victorian mansion on a stormy British coast, a diabolical crime and its psychological aftermath are at the heart of the Langley Players’ upcoming production — Victoria’s House, by Fred Carmichael.

When Neil Bannister kills his devoted wife Victoria, he thinks he has committed the perfect crime. That is, until forces — be it the long arm of the law or something more supernatural — begin to work against him.

Set at the turn of the 20th century, Victoria’s House is not a murder mystery in the classic sense, said its director, Angela Bell.

“It’s not a whodunnit, because you know whodunnit,” said Bell, who is taking her third turn at the helm of an LP production. She previously directed The Last Real Summer in 2009 and last winter’s comedy For Better.

“It’s sort of like a mystery, crossed with a ghost story. It borders on a psychological thriller.”

It has been several years since the drama club, which performs out of the little theatre in Brookswood, has mounted a mystery, she said, but there was something about Carmichael’s two-act play that grabbed everyone on the play reading committee.

“When we read this as a committee, we were so caught up in the story that when somebody knocked at the door (of the playhouse) we all screamed.

“It scared the bejeezus out of us,” laughed Bell.

With the source material in place, it became a case of finding the right people to draw audiences both into the building and into the story itself.

“When it came to women, there was just an overwhelming number (who auditioned),” said Bell. For the sake of time, she had to be quick and ruthless in her decisions.

“Nobody got a second chance that day, unfortunately. They had to come out swinging on the first try.”

In the end, Gemma Martini won the role of Mrs. Case, the home’s austere housekeeper, while Robyn Roukema will play Jane Leighton. Performing the title role of Victoria Bannister is Burnaby’s Tamara Prescott.

One of Bell’s happiest discoveries was Kathleen Auton, who plays the servant girl, Winnie.

“It’s her first production out of high school. She’s a delight,” said the director.

Langley physician, actor and musician Shannon Lee, plays Margaret St. James, an eccentric spinster who believes in the occult. And while Lee is used to performing in comedies (as she did in last season’s For Better) her character is one of the few in this atmospheric drama who gets to play for laughs — simply because she is so serious about an inherently funny subject.

Another key component of Lee’s character, which audiences at the first few shows won’t get to appreciate, is her elaborate period hairstyle. With all its rolls and pins, the first attempts took an hour and a half to complete, she said. However, the stylist working on the show isn’t available until the second week of the run, so early audiences will get a toned down version.

One thing they will feel the full force of, however, are the accents — both upper and working class British — noted Lee, who is pleased that Bell decided to challenge her actors.

“A lot of people are afraid of (doing accents on stage) but I’ve been around British accents all my life. My husband is British, so I’m comfortable with it,” she said.

The distinctive speech patterns add to the veracity of the play, and create a better experience for the audience, she believes.

At the same time, Lee suspects, the requirement helped Bell to winnow down the list of suitable candidates.

Unlike with the women, Bell was able to spend a bit more time casting the male characters, selecting Langley’s Peter Goddard for the role of Stephens, the estate’s groom and handyman.

“Peter played the father in (last season’s) Lost in Yonkers, which was a huge winner for us,” said Bell.

The role of the murderous Neil Bannister went to Tomas Gamba, while Raymond Hatton will play Charles Axton.

The part of lawyer William Scott was already cast when the actor told Bell he had a conflict with the play’s run dates.

“So I had to recast. We had this scary emergency, and in walked Joshua (deGroot) and he was just absolutely amazing,” said Bell, adding the young actor commands the stage in the same way the attorney’s presence fills a room.

The entire team, whether on stage or backstage, has been brilliant, said Bell.And she’s confident that teamwork will translate to audiences during the show’s month-long run.

Lee agrees.

In this play, the house is as much a character as any portrayed by an actor on the stage, said the actress.

In the beginning, Lee admitted, she was a little concerned about how it was going.

“It wasn’t coming alive for me until the music, the set and the lighting were added in,” she said.

Together, she said, the effects combine to create an often spooky atmosphere, that will allow audiences to suspend their disbelief and be drawn into the story.

“That has been accomplished —  more than it has by the actors — by the technical people,” she said.

Victoria’s House runs  Thursdays to Sundays from Jan. 19 to Feb. 18 at the Langley Playhouse, 4307 200 St. in Brookswood.  Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

All tickets are $15. For reservations, call 604-534-7469, or email

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