Tag Archives: Julia Main

Making A Killing

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.

murderin play

Well hard. Dean Gaffney and Poppy Meadows.


Death by Disappointment

A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED

Derby Theatre, Tuesday 29th January, 2012

Brother and sister Patrick and Julia are staying with their aunt Lettie in her home in the sleepy village of Chipping Cragburn.  Also knocking around are Lettie’s old friend Dora Bunner, young widow Phillipa, Mrs Swettenham and her son Edmund, and Eastern European housemaid Mitzi… They come across an advertisement in the local paper that someone in that very house is to be murdered that very day at 6:30pm.  Speculation runs rife: who would do such a thing?  Who’s for the chop?  As nerves begin to fray, revelations are teased out.  No one is who they seem…

This is the set-up for Agatha Christie’s play, a sort of who-will-do-it, currently on tour.  I’ve seen several productions of these things by Ian Dickens and they are generally of a high standard.  Unfortunately the same cannot be said for this slow-moving and verbose piece – you can forgive a lot of things if the mystery is intriguing and puzzling enough to keep you hooked.  This one, I’m afraid doesn’t cut it.

Katy Manning is the lynchpin as Aunt Lettie, elegantly stalking around in high heels (and almost stumbling off them at one point).  She is something of a cold fish and consequently, we don’t care.  Her childhood friend, we are led to believe, is Dora Bunner – Claire Fisher plays the spinster as a whiny, childlike, on-some-kind-of-spectrum figure; she is consistent in her characterisation, I’ll give her that, but it’s very wearing on the patience.  A bit of variety in delivery would make her more sympathetic and also she could do with looking older – at first I thought she was a younger sister or even daughter.

Gemma Bissix is underused as the snitty, bored Julia.  Dean Gaffney as her brother Patrick seems to have a self-satisfied smile plastered to his fizzog.  He’s supposed to be the urbane twit of the piece but, and this is symptomatic of the whole, lacks the verve and energy necessary to bring the play to life.

Here’s the thing: you cannot perform a piece like this entirely naturalistically.  The characters aren’t fully rounded representations of people.  They are sketches, types, and sometimes only ciphers.  You have to heighten the portrayal to draw us in.  In my view, those who pull off this feat are Julia Main as Mitzi the maid, Geraldine Newman as amateur sleuth Miss Marple, and John D Collins as Inspector Craddock.  These three seem to have a spark I couldn’t detect in the rest of the cast, although Poppy Meadows as widow-with-a-secret Phillipa has her moments.

The plot, more contrived than a Heath Robinson contraption, lumbers on for over two and a half hours.  Not enough jeopardy and not enough murders.  The cast seemed to be forever bumping into the furniture and the names of the village and some unseen foreign characters caused them difficulties.

I fear this production has murdered my enthusiasm for these Agatha Christie plays, and I’ve got another one lined up next week.

murderisannounced