Ian Dickens Productions’ Murdered to Death, now showing at Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts as part of a UK tour, is another in an ever growing collection of ‘spoof’ whodunnits, and it seems ‘sending up’ the Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery is becoming a genre all its own.
Set in the obligatory isolated country house in the 1930s, all the clichés are there; the stiff-upper-lipped Colonel, the shady foreign art dealer (with a shockingly dodgy French accent), the debutante, the butler, and the hawk-like amateur sleuth – in this case Miss Joan Maple (!?!), local spinster of the parish. The lady of the manor is shot dead during the course of a weekend house-party, the guests fall under suspicion, each having secrets and motives of their own….
Unfortunately, Murdered to Death, is not one of the better examples of this genre. Peter Gordon’s script is amusing, and works well as a mystery, but lacks the bite to be a truly fine spoof. The comedy only really gets going when the bumbling Inspector Pratt (yes, really!) arrives to take charge of the investigation, with the unfortunate Constable Thompkins, his superior in all things except rank, in tow. David Callister, as the Inspector, delivers an energetic performance, clearly modelled on ‘Inspector Clouseau’, and with Christopher Elderwood (Thompkins) as his foil, makes a good comedy double act.
The production is blessed with a fine cast of comedy players, headed by the redoubtable Victor Spinetti (as the curmudgeonly aged retainer, Bunting) and Sandra Dickinson (as the Colonel’s wife), and this lifts the otherwise unchallenging and mediocre direction, making the piece entertaining, and a pleasantly diverting evening’s theatre.