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Sleighed To Death

Here at Scene One Plus, it seems to be my lot to get lumbered with the traditional country house murder mysteries. I have a bit of a reputation for reviewing Shakespeare plays as well but, while other people get to do the glossy stage musicals, I get the Murder in the Library with the Candlestick – by (whoever dunnit this time). I saw the title of this one, Sleighed to Death, and completely failed to research it – assuming that it was either one of the above, or possibly a “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians“, cheesy, Christmas thing.

What I could have known, had I looked it up, is that this is a recent prequel script to a successful trilogy of plays, by Peter Gordon, which feature an intellectually and linguistically challenged Inspector Pratt. Set on Christmas Eve 1935, when Pratt is still just a sergeant, he and his reluctant WPC colleague Potter (Cheryl Connor) are booked to perform a magic act, in aid of the ‘Police Malevolent Fund’ (sic) at the residence of Sir Walton Gates (Andrew Murton) and his wife Grace Gates (Alyssa Thompson). The mystery, described at one point as “the classic who didn’t dunnit”, is rather incidental to the comedy, which Kevin Sissons, as Pratt, milks with great effect. How any of the others manage to keep a straight face, as the sergeant blunders through an endless succession of ingeniously scripted but brilliantly executed malapropisms, I do not know. There was a point when I thought that perhaps Alicia Needham, as the “I’m weally not that bwight” daughter, Emma Gates, is actually laughing – but she disguises it and continues to keep up the role very well. Jenny Hughes’ Scottish accent, as Sir Walton’s Personal Private Secretary, is flawless, while Chris Kemp, as the estranged brother, Archie Gates, maintains a slightly dubious Australian (or ornamental) persona and has some witty lines of his own. Michael Griffiths plays a good supporting role as the adventurer, James Washington, and Sir Walton’s nervous giggle is irritatingly obvious before it is described as “that awful laugh” in the dialogue.

Undoubtedly the tour-de-force here is by Kevin Sissons as Sergeant Pratt; he has by far the biggest load to carry and he does so with apparent ease. There is little or nothing wrong with any of the other performances, nor the set, the direction, the lighting, the sound or the twitching curtain – but they are also-rans alongside Kevin’s portrayal of this infamous comic buffoon.

I have a brief catalogue, here in my notes, of some of the best of Pratt’s malapropisms, as well as some of the best of the other lines – but to describe them, out of context and without the excellent comic timing of this cast, would be to cheapen them. This is certainly the funniest stage thriller/murder mystery that I have seen. It is not at all cheesy and Christmassy and I urge you all to see it if you can.

The show runs again on Thursday 21 – Saturday 23 November at 7.30pm in the Broadstone War Memorial Hall (BH18 8AW) and there is a matinée on Saturday at 2.15pm.

Now that I am aware of them, I will be looking out for performances of Peter Gordon’s other “Inspector Pratt” comedies.