Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse sleuthed on our screens for twelve years, so he would seem like a safe bet in the current trend for adapting popular television shows for the stage.
Colin Baker steps in to John Thaw’s shoes as Thames Valley CID’s finest, investigating the case of an actress who drops down dead on stage during the second act of 'Hamlet'. As luck would have it Morse is in the audience and no sooner has the poor girl breathed her last he’s got the scene-of-crime tape up and is taking witness statements.
Much is made of the fact that House of Ghosts is written by Alma Cullen, who wrote four television episodes of Morse. And that is the main problem with this production – it seems like a telly script put on the stage. The short scenes, forever changing to multiple locations, are more suited to the screen, and while the changes are slick it is distracting to be constantly jumping around. And the play within a play element is clumsily done, populated with stereotypical characters – the past-her-prime actress drowning her sorrows, the egotistical director, the substance-abusing leading man. The cast do their best but they struggle with material that is so often laboured and contrived.
I am no Morse aficionado, but Baker’s interpretation seemed more noisy than cerebral, and poor Lewis (Andrew Bone) is left with little to do other than scurry around behind him scribbling notes and dreaming of steak and kidney pie.
The mystery itself is pretty uninspiring – although we did spend the interval guessing whodunit (I guessed wrong) – and the whole thing tips in to melodrama more than once, sometimes provoking laughter from the audience.
My companion for the evening is a Morse fan, and he was disappointed. I am not especially, and I was disappointed. I think that says it all.