Rumbustious thespian Brian Blessed returns to The Mill at Sonning to direct his fourth – and sadly final – production from the works of Agatha Christie, a gripping drama based on her 1944 novel Towards Zero.

In a programme note he tells us that Christie, whom he knew, considered this “her finest play” – a bold claim since it was largely the work of Sexton Blake’s creator Gerald Verner.

The Queen of Crime made a solo adaptation that went unseen, after an American try-out in 1945. It was eventually given its European premier this June in Norwich.

While perhaps not over-taxed in the writing of the 1956 version, Christie at least attended rehearsals. When asked if she minded a line being altered, she replied that she did mind. “I want you to say, ‘I hate her. I hate her. I hate her.’”

This amply illustrates the staginess of the piece, a quality deliciously explored at Sonning by Mr Blessed and his talented team of players.

It emerges as a joyful celebration of life in the 1950s and of its crime drama especially, with name checks both for Edgar Wallace and Francis Durbridge’s Paul Temple, whose theme music crackles from the green Robert’s radio.

Yes, the period is perfectly caught in Dinah England’s design, right down to the gleaming, well-laden drinks trolley.

We are, throughout the play, in the drawing room of Gull’s Point, the sprawling cliff-top home on the Cornish coast of the elderly widow Lady Tressilian, a peach of a part for the director’s wife Hildegard Neil.

As his daughter, Rosalind Blessed, is showing us the bossy old lady’s secretary and dogsbody Mary, this is very much a family affair.

For Mill regulars, the production supplies an odd sense of déjà vu since – just as in the last show, Noël Coward’s Private Lives – we are shown a husband with a new wife under the same roof as his former spouse, and seemingly not indifferent to her charms..

The gentleman concerned this time is the well-heeled sporting hero Neville Strange (Rob Heanley), heir to the Tressilian millions (or £50,000 of them).

It will be seen that he has something to contend with in his headstrong, glamour-puss, much younger wife Kay (Bethan Nash), she of the “I hate her, I hate her” line. The ‘her’, as might be guessed, is Neville’s wife No 1, the cool, near-comatose Audrey (Kate Tydman) who drifts through life as if on autopilot.

Her charms are not lost, though, on Neville’s childhood friend, the pipe-smoking, buttoned-up Thomas Royde (Patrick Myles), back from the Malayan rubber plantations and keen to propose when he plucks up courage.

Kay, too, has an admirer in the amusing, ‘God’s gift to women’ type Ted Latimer (Duncan Wilkins) who is staying at a nearby hotel.

All is set, then, for crime and subsequent sleuthing, in which George Telfer’s Superintendent Battle and Chris Pybus’s Inspector Leach get no little help from the family solicitor Matthew Treves (Noel White).

Until September 28. Box office: 0118 969 8000, 4/5