Set in Oxford, in 1987, Morse (Colin Baker) comes face to face with the ‘ghosts’ of his past - fellow undergraduates from his college days 25 years before. On a trip to the theatre to see a provincial production of Hamlet with old flame Ellen Underwood (Lynette Edwards), who is now a professor in their old college, Morse becomes embroiled in a stage-within-a-stage drama as the young actress playing Ophelia (Rachel Logan) collapses and dies on stage in suspicious circumstances. Amongst the suspects are Morse’s fellow ex-students Laurence Baxter (David Acton), the bullying and vainglorious director; Verity Carr (Gay Soper), a theatrical trouper and faded beauty; and Mgr Paul Kinkaide (Paul Clarkson), now a high-ranking Catholic priest. Mixed in are some staple whodunit ingredients for good measure; the stereotypical bitter and predatory ‘old queen’ of a stage manager, called rather aptly Philip Woolf (John Fleming), the young, confused substance abusing ‘Hamlet’ (Gregory Finnegan), the spurned lover, the jealous wife, and a good dose of catholic guilt.
Unsettling (for people of my age) that a story set in 1987 can now be considered a period drama, much mileage is made from in-jokes about not having widespread mobile phone or computer networks or DNA testing to help the investigation along. The play feels more Agatha Christie than Colin Dexter in its staging, on a simple but remarkably flexible single set (designed by Paul Wills) which effectively doubles as college, church, on stage, back stage, stage door, and various hostelries around Oxford, with just the odd prop or change of lighting. However, it is clearly written to suit the screen, with a multitude of quick fire scenes, requiring a lot of marching on and off stage to conduct interviews, lay red herrings and generally move things along. At times this is quite distracting and does not sit well with the overall theatrical style of the piece.
As Morse, Colin Baker is more bombastic than cerebral, and displays little of the familiar characteristics of John Thaw’s interpretation. Still, he does not at least attempt to impersonate Thaw’s Morse, and brings his own style to the role, which is perfectly serviceable. Andrew Bone, as Lewis, does manage a passable Geordie accent, but has little to do, other than follow the good Inspector around with a notepad. The rest of the cast put in good turns too, as the set of rather formulaic characters, and clearly enjoy every minute of it.
All-in-all a fine, engaging whodunit which may disappoint die-hard fans of Dexter’s original novels, but is none-the-less an entertaining, theatrical romp, worthy of a good night out.