Murder Mystery

This enthusiastic and hard-working company is always a cause of wonder, and their latest production met the standards we have come to expect of them. A murderer is at large in Checkmate Manor, doing in members of a family who have gathered for the reading of a will. Thanks to the skilled sleuthing of Inspector O’Reilly, the perpetrator is unmasked in the final dramatic scene. Or is (s)he?

The play was in the safe hands of four stalwarts of the company, each of whom played several parts, cleverly doing so without losing their own identity. It was a good idea of Mrs Cavendish, the wardrobe mistress, to provide such ill-fitting wigs that the characters could be separated by how badly the wigs fit. Praise for props ‘girl’ Valerie, too, for her shapely arm as she handed from the wings props that had not been brought on. She showed great presence of mind when a stage knife went missing and she provided an ironing board with which to complete the stabbing.

The enthusiasm of the cast was shown by the number of times they entered early, ingeniously balanced by the number of late entries. Their affection for the script led to the repetition of a large part of it.

The individual performances were notable. When the lighter provided on stage didn’t work, Thelma pretended to enjoy a cigarette so realistically that you could almost see the smoke rising from it. Beset by a minor hitch in the lighting and sound effects, Felicity quickly learnt to switch on a lamp by answering the ringing phone. When Audrey lost a contact lens, she delivered her lines from a kneeling position but with such aplomb, you would hardly have known there was a problem.

Mrs Reece not only took several roles but directed. Such was her dedication that she continued to do so from a prone position while playing a corpse. What, though, of Sylvia, one of the company’s stars, who was to have played the part of Inspector O’Reilly? Sadly, she was indisposed, and the stage manager, Gordon, manfully took on the role.

This theatre-goer for one cannot wait for this remarkable company’s next production, which the programme tells us is The Mikado. It will surely reach the standard of this memorable evening.

—— oOo ——

Plays about plays, especially terrible ones, are a rich source of comedy: think of Noises Off, The Play That Goes Wrong and even A Midsummer Night’s Dream. David McGillivray and Walter Zerin Jnr have mined this seam to good effect with their five Farndale Avenue plays. One apparent advantage is that if anything really does go wrong, the audience will think it is part of the play (were Audrey and George pretending to ‘corpse’ or was it for real?), but it is actually quite difficult to act badly intentionally if you are blessed with the talent that this cast has.

The bouquets are shared out equally between Jane Wright (Mrs Reece), Carole Willison (Thelma), Helen Johns (Felicity), Sarah Vandervelde (Audrey) and Steve James (Gordon). They give subtle hints of the tensions between the cast as they drop briefly out of the characters they are playing in the murder mystery, and they skilfully negotiate a scene involving the shifting of chairs that must have been a nightmare to rehearse. If one scene stands out, though, it is the song and dance routine by Carole Willison and Steve James.

Steve Watton directs, and one imagines that rehearsals must have been enormous fun. Certainly a great sense of enjoyment comes across from the cast. Perhaps that is the main reason why it really is a memorable evening.

Future performances: 23-25 November at 7.30.