Friday, 24 May 2013

Murder in Play by Simon Brett, The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke,23 May 2013

Written by Simon Brett, a writer of whodunits, Murder in Play is a comedy thriller with the usual oddballs and red herrings. The main plot device is ‘a play within a play.’ The play opens on  the final rehearsals of  'Murder at Priorswell Manor'.

Things are not going well. There is tension on the set. Then to top it all fiction becomes reality when a leading member of the cast is murdered, a lethal dose of parquet. It’s a wonderful opportunity for Sophie Lawton (Gemma Bissix) and Tim Ferner (Dean Gaffney) to play detective. The stage, a drawing room with all the essential exits, is set for a murder mystery.

There were strong performances all round, however firstly mention must go to Alison Mead as Renee. She remained superbly stalwart despite her treatment by her serial philanderer husband and Director, Boris Smolensky (David Callister). In addition, Katy Manning (Christa D’Amato, Mrs Puttock) and Richard Tate (Harrison Bracewell, Mr Papadopoulos) showed that both have a great talent for both verbal and physical comedy. Their entrances, exits, and subsequent stage play added the necessary comic touch to the drama. If anything, I thought Katy Manning was underused but I cannot argue with Brett’s script. That leads me to another point.

There felt in the final act that there was too much exposition as if desperately trying to fill in the plot holes. It was often confusing, talking of events that we had not witnessed. When was Ginette (Poppy Meadows) arrested for the crime? Who is Detective Inspector Bob Brewer? It felt awkward. It did not have the momentum of the earlier acts.

Many of the cast were in A Murder Is Announced that toured earlier this year. That had some of the same faults. Nevertheless, as I said, that is not the cast or the Director’s fault. Everyone here  worked together superbly performing in dual roles and delivered a great production, even though at times it was baffling, well to me anyway.

Nevertheless, it was entertaining and an excellent showcase for the younger actors who are probably more at ease in front of a camera than being on a stage.

Reviewed at The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke part of Anvil Arts  for Remotegoat website.

Brought to the stage by Ian Dickens Productions Directed by Ian Dickens

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie. The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke. 28th February 2013.

Agatha Christie has managed to stay popular despite her anachronistic English village domain. Audiences and readers still adore her labyrinthine plots. Ian Dickens’ touring production of ‘A Murder Is Announced’ is the latest adaptation.

From the outset it is unmistakably the nineteen fifties and to be more precise, 1953. A notice appears in the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette stating rather oddly ‘A murder is announced and will take place… at Little Paddocks at 6.30pm’. This soon fires the curiosity of the villagers and Jane Marples. All gather at Little Paddocks, the home of Letitia Blacklock. At 6.30 precisely, the lights go out, someone fires a gun, and a murder has occurred.

A fitting introduction to an ingenious spider’s web of deceit and plot twists. Just when you think you have cracked it, there is another startling revelation to add to the complexity. Sadly, when it gets to this point, exposition too often gets in the way of dramatic tension. On a few occasions, there were forced efforts to get through as much dialogue as possible to clarify the narrative.

Despite this minor hurdle, all the actors worked well together. Of particular note were Katy Manning as Letitia Blacklock and John D Collins as Inspector Craddock. Both dominated the stage with dramatic presence. Geraldine Newman probably had the most challenging task in bringing anything fresh to the role of Miss Marples. As a result  she was so often overshadowed.

A functional stage set convincingly recreates the period detail as did  the musical extracts – ‘Knightsbridge March’, ‘Sleepy Lagoon’, ‘The Marching Strings’ and ‘Barwick Green’ – all quintessentially English pieces.
As one would expect from Christie the plot is ingenious and taut. Moreover, despite its focus on death, it is also witty, extremely gripping, and satisfyingly entertaining. It left the majority of audience guessing to the end. We see very little of this kind of work since the demise of ‘rep’. The fact that this house was full and the production is selling out demonstrates that there is a demand for these popular plays. I hope that we will see similar in the future.

From Agatha Christie’s Novel.
Directed by Ian Dickens and David North | Stage adaptation by Leslie Darbon
Brought to the stage by Ian Dickens Productions
Reviewed at The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke part of Anvil Arts for The Flaneur