MURDER IN PLAY
Festival Theatre, Malvern, Wednesday 28th May, 2013
Noises Off the famous farce-within-a-farce was blatantly the inspiration for Simon Brett’s murder-mystery-within-a-murder-mystery from 1993. It begins with a scene of excruciating dialogue and clunky accents and we fear we’re in for some am dram level old pot-boiler, but, we can relax: this is a rehearsal. The real characters are a troupe of actors struggling through a run the night before their play is due to open.
We have Alison Mead as stuffy ‘Lady Chomondley’ as performed by the ‘director’s’ snooty wife; Lord Rodney Pirbright (Dean Gaffney in a James Bond dinner jacket) as performed by Equity stickler ‘Tim’; Katy Manning plays a former soap legend reduced to mugging and girning as cook/housekeeper ‘Mrs Puttock’; Richard Tate in a ridiculous wig as villainous Mr Papadapoulous as portrayed by dotty old sot ‘Harrison Braithwaite’…
Poppy Meadows gives the greatest contrast between her two roles. As ‘Virginia Chomondley’ she is all cut-glass and straight-necked, and then as actress ‘Ginette Vincent’ she is all ditzy and gor-blimey. This helps us to keep clear about when they are ‘on’ and when they are ‘off’.
The rehearsal is interrupted by ‘director’ Boris Smolensky – David Callister, mangling vowels and strutting around despotically in pretentious cowboy boots. It’s a masterly comic turn. It’s pleasing to see many of the cast, who are old hands at the creaky murder mystery, sending up the genre so effectively. Katy Manning is enjoying herself as health-nut ‘Christa’, firing off bitchy remarks with relish. Julia Main is hilarious as dopey stage manager Pat, and Dean Gaffney is a revelation, showing a flair for comic timing and face-pulling. He seems more at ease in this type of thing and should do more comedy.
Richard Tate is the funniest by a country mile. A veteran performer, he is a master of the silly accent and migrating limp when ‘in role’ but also delivers a fine characterisation as the absent-minded old lush.
It falls to Gemma Bissix as ‘Sophie Lawton’, whose sexy maid outfit hides an analytical mind. She has great swathes of exposition and explanation to get through in order to reveal the killer – somebody has to do it! It’s just a pity she doesn’t get to have as much fun with her characterisation as the rest of the cast do with theirs.
Real-life director Ian Dickens keeps it moving. With farcical shows, you can’t let the balloon touch the ground. I can’t help wondering how close his own working methods are to those utilised by the on-stage Boris…
A funny, clever script well-played, this production is doing the rounds as part of Ian Dickens Productions’ summer season. It is well worth an evening of anyone’s time.