REHEARSAL FOR MURDER
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 9th May, 2016
The whodunit is a staple of the touring theatre circuit. We enjoy trying to puzzle out the identity of the killer – there is pleasure in being proved right and, if wrong, there is admiration for the writer and the production that has led us so merrily up the garden path. In this respect, David Rogers’s adaptation of a story by Ricard Levinson and William Link (the writers of Murder, She Wrote, no less) is no different from others doing the rounds. How it differs, how it sets itself apart from and above most of the rest, is with a sophisticated structure and a truly clever conceit that, I readily admit, I didn’t twig.
Set in an empty theatre (shades of The Woman in Black) playwright Alex Dennison (Robert Daws) sets up for a reading of his latest work. It’s all a ruse to unmask the murderer of his fiancée, the actress Monica Welles (Amy Robbins) a year ago. The cast assembles and through a series of flashbacks, Dennison narrates events of that fateful night and then stages new scenes, hoping to catch the conscience of the killer. He has a police officer ready-planted in the stalls…
As mastermind Dennison, Daws owns the stage, able to drop out of narrator mode into some highly-charged emotional scenes. Amy Robbins brings old-school glamour to the role of the ill-fated Monica, while Robert Duncan is good fun as irrepressible old luvvie David Mathews. Susan Penhaligon is enjoyable as Bella, the overbearing producer, delivering some of the show’s best lines with relish. Steven Pinder is good as neurotic director Lloyd, and there are energetic performances from Ben Nealon as the ‘juvenile’ Leo Gibbs and Lucy Dixon as ‘ingenue’ Karen Daniels. It’s all slightly larger-than-life and on the leeward side of camp, making for an enjoyable watch and an intriguing mystery. Despite being told from the off, we are going to be deceived, I genuinely don’t see the reveal coming.
Roy Marsden directs with an assured hand. The sophisticated structure is handled with clarity and style, making for a delightful evening and a fresh take on a popular genre, expertly performed by a likeable ensemble.
Calling the shots: Robert Daws
Leave a comment | tags: Amy Robbins, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Ben Nealon, David Rogers, Lucy Dixon, Rehearsal For Murder, review, Richard levinson, Robert Daws, Robert Duncan, Roy Marsden, Steven Pinder, Susan Penhaligon, William Link | posted in Theatre Review
THE PERFECT MURDER
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 10th November, 2014
All the love has gone from the marriage of Victor and Joan Smiley. She is having an affair with a bit of rough and he is a regular client to a Polish prostitute who happens to be psychic (she can see you coming). Victor is plotting to murder his wife and run off with Kamila, who in the mean time is using her psychometric abilities to help the police find murder victims. Add in a likeable but inexperienced young detective inspector and the stage is set for a lively evening of laughter, thrills and suspense.
Shaun McKenna’s adaptation of Peter James’s novel is very funny – the bickering between the central couple is acerbic and sometimes cruel – and it’s played to the hilt by Robert Daws and Dawn Steele, who both drip with bitter sarcasm. Gray O’Brien is energetic as Joan’s bit of stuff, while Simona Armstrong’s Kamila pulls off some potentially awkward scenes of psychic flashes. Thomas Howes teases out the tension as D.C. Grace. It’s not so much a whodunit but a will-they-get-away-with-it, and there are shocks and twists along the way.
Michael Holt’s split level set gives us four rooms all at once so the action can keep flowing without any pesky scene changes, (keeping a chest freezer centre stage…) Mark Howett’s lighting and Martin Hodgson’s sound enhance the suspense and bring a touch of the supernatural to the proceedings. Director Ian Talbot places emphasis on the fun – we enjoy the performers even if we find the characters deplorable.
With its many references to popular crime fiction, the play is a refreshing change from the country house, drawing room, murder mysteries that usually do the rounds. Not only is there a discussion of which Sherlock Holmes has the best bum, there is a knowingness that informs the plot: the characters have all ‘seen it on the telly’ and so has the audience, but The Perfect Murder is fresh and engaging. You are guaranteed a good night out with this entertaining black comedy chiller.
Leave a comment | tags: Dawn Steele, Gray O'Brien, Ian Talbot, Mark Howlett, Martin Hodgson, Michael Holt, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Peter James, review, Robert Daws, Shaun McKenna, Simona Armstrong, The Perfect Murder, Thomas Howes | posted in Theatre Review