The Unexpected Guest is a 1958 play by crime writer Agatha Christie.
On a foggy night, Michael Starkwedder enters the home of the Warwicks through a window in the study. He finds the dead body of Richard Warwick, and finds Warwick's wife, Laura, holding a gun that supposedly killed him. Despite the murder being obvious, and overwhelming evidence pointing towards it, Starkwedder does not believe she killed him, and she soon tells him she's innocent.
The two decide to place the blame on an enemy from the past, MacGregor, a man whose son was run over by Richard while he was drunk. As the story progresses, the two fake the fact that they were just finding out about the murder, and others in the house were introduced. It is revealed Laura was having an affair due to Richard's cruel nature, and was vouching for the man she was cheating with when she claimed to have killed Richard. But there are other suspects as well - Warwick's mother, his simple half-brother, the sinister Angell or the apparently goody-goody Miss Bennett. The real murderer could be anyone!
Synopsis of scene
The action of the play takes place in Richard Warwick’s study in South Wales near the Bristol Channel.
- Scene 1 - An evening in November. About 11.30 pm
- Scene 2 - The following morning, About 11am
- Late afternoon the same day
- Philip Newman as Richard Warwick
- Renée Asherson as Laura Warwick
- Nigel Stock as Michael Starkwedder
- Winifred Oughton as Miss Bennett
- Christopher Sandford as Jan Warwick
- Violet Farebrother as Mrs Warwick
- Paul Curran as Henry Angell
- Tenniel Evans as Sergeant Cadwallader
- Michael Golden as Inspector Thomas
- Roy Purcell as Julian Farrar
Reception of 1958 production
Philip Hope-Wallace of The Guardian reviewed the opening night in the issue of August 13, 1958 when he said, "The Unexpected Guest is standard Agatha Christie. It has nothing as ingenious or exciting as the court scene and double twist of Witness for the Prosecution but it kept last night's audience at the Duchess Theatre in a state of stunned uncertainty; guessing wrongly to the last. There are one or two irritating factors: an outsize red herring in the shape of what, naturally, one may not disclose; also one of those corpse's mothers who say, in so many words, "Inspector, I have not many years to live…" and embark on enormities of tedious repetition."
Mr Hope-Wallace said that the corpse was, "impeccably played with, no doubt, full assistance of the Method, by Philip Newman" and concluded, "I have known more tension and greater surprise from other of Mrs. Christie's classics but this is quite a decent specimen of her craft."
Laurence Kitchin of The Observer reviewed the play in the issue of August 17, 1958 when he said. "The corpse cools unregarded in a wheel-chair while the widow and an intruder embark on a complicated exposition. Provided you can accept such unreality and the abysmal humour, there is an ingenious display of suspects, as if lids were being taken off wells of depravity and hastily put back."
The Guardian reported that The Queen attended a performance of the play on the evening of February 16, 1959 with Lord and Lady Mountbatten. The cast were unaware that she was in the audience. It was also the night that Christopher Sandford fell ill part way through the performance and had to be replaced by his understudy after the interval.
2007 U.K. tour
It was directed by Joe Harmston. The set designer was was Simon Scullion. The play toured Wolverhampton, Malvern and Aberdeen.
- Nicholas Shackleford as Richard Warwick
- Tracey Childs as Laura Warwick
- Jack Ellis as Michael Starkwedder
- Kate Best as Miss Bennett
- Dean Gaffney as Jan Warwick
- Virginia Stride as Mrs Warwick
- Eugene Washington as Henry Angell
- Gary Richards as Sergeant Cadwallader
- Frazer Hines as Inspector Thomas
- Mark Wynter as Julian Farrar
The play was first published in 1958 by Samuel French Ltd. in a paperback edition priced at six shillings.