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Murder Walk By The Castle [Open Air Production]

Double Act drama group    North Castle Field, opp Castle View NT car park, Nr Corfe Castle  Caroline Burr 2 August  2023


Set against the dramatic back drop of Corfe Castle a small party of us set off across the beautiful Dorset countryside to try to solve the murder of Sir Henry Paget. The story is loosely based on real events which happened in the 14th century, when Isabella, mother of Edward III, and her lover Mortimer, were plotting to take control of the English throne.

A troupe of actors, full of stock characters such as the evil Lady Blanche Trevaile (Sonia Smith) and the put upon maid Maud (Mary Newcombe) invited us to unravel the various clues and plot twists as uncovered by Prior Truman (Dougal Dixon).

Sonia Smith as the wicked, and increasingly drunk, protagonist gave a strong performance working well with Mary Newcombe, her poor exploited maid. As Maud, this young actress gave a superb performance, inhabiting the role in a way that was totally convincing. She had very few lines, but stayed in character the whole time, including asking my friend if she had any money she could give her!

A lot of the comedy came from the interjections of Meg (Linda Coulson) and Gem (Judith Jenkins) as the local busybodies. These two actresses were very good at improvising and provided a lot of laugh out loud moments for the audience. Rob Schofield as Adam of Woodstock gave a confident, natural performance, really coming into his own in the final scene.

Costumes were all extremely good, with Katie Holloway as Lady Elizabeth Paget looking particularly authentic, and the special effects worked well too. The props were also effective, especially bearing in mind that many had to be transported across the pastures!

The walk included long grass, steep paths and crossing a road, and although this enabled us to see the spectacular vista of the castle from various viewpoints, it did interrupt the narrative and meant it was difficult for the actors to maintain the tension and intrigue as the story unfolded. Dougal Dixon had the key role as the Cadfael type monk investigating the crime, had good stage presence but seemed hesitant at times, so this also added to the lack of pace at times. A couple of the other cast members did seem not secure in their lines, which might be a result of only performing the show once a week. This did not seem to affect the enjoyment of the crowd though, who enjoyed the audience participation and general silliness of the evening.

The director might consider the use of period music to set the scene at the start of the performance and to cover the inevitable stoppages as we waited for the whole audience to assemble at various points along the route for the next set of clues to be explained.

Double Act are to be congratulated for coming up with this brilliant concept which was devised, written and directed by Peter Smith, one of the group members. The appreciative audience clearly enjoyed themselves and were drawn in to the medieval “whodunit”, enthusiastically voting for the most likely villain at the end of the show.

You can catch further performances on 9 and 16 August at 7:00pm for the bargain price of £5.