Murder in Play (tour – Stevenage, Gordon Craig Theatre)

Comedy thrillers can to be tricky to pull off. Comedy thrillers which involve a play within a
play (leaving Hamlet to one side) offer even more
pitfalls to an unwary director. Simon Brett‘s Murder in
(aka Dead Bodies Everywhere) is
typical of its genre.

We’re looking at one of
those country-house drawing-rooms sometimes after the end of the
First World War. It’s the set for a play which involves a
shell-shocked war hero with a skeleton in his cupboard, his fiancée,
her mother, a foreign wheeler-dealer and assorted members of the
serving class. The director for this production is Boris, a sort of
marginally more cuddly variation of Erich von Stroheim with an ego to match his libido.

His leading lady
(playing Lady Cholmondley) is also his wife. His current squeeze is
Ginette (cast as Virginia Cholmondley), with small-part player Sophie
and stage manager Pat next on his to-do-over list. His professional problems are
acerbated by an ageing character actor with a fondness for the bottle
– and distinct amnesia as far as remembering lines is concerned – a
former soap-opera star with an acid tongue and Tim, the leading man
who’s hopeless with props. Oh yes, and there’s a vital cupboard door
which keeps on opening at the wrong moment.

Murder in real life
soon overtakes murder on stage. Sophie (Gemma Bissix) and Tim
(Dean Gaffney) set to and play detective, as people’s private lives
and pasts which they had hoped had been buried in discreet oblivion
pop up like so many Pepper’s Ghosts from beneath the grave-traps.
Bissix is very good (I liked her flounce over her original one-line
part) but Gaffney was practically inaudible – an unseasonable sore
throat, perhaps?

Boris is a peach of a
part, and David Callister sinks his teeth into it, right down to
the kernel. Poor old Harrison, lumbered with a ghastly wig to play
the sinister Mr Papadapoulos (as well as a cameo from the Ministry of
Funny Walks when he has to double as the detective and a running joke
about Ralph Richardson anecdotes), is Richard Tate, who is very
funny. Poppy Meadows plays chief suspect Ginette.

Not every stage manager
is a frustrated actress, as Julia Main‘s Pat makes clear when Renée
(Alison Mead)’s death requires a radical redistribution of parts
(basically, everyone moves up a slot). Katy Manning‘s Christa is an
interesting study of nasty ways in which the past can catch up with
the present (stardom brings out the scavengers as well as the fans);
you can see why she has a following even after her television series
has ended.