The Murder Room

Bournemouth Little Theatre  Bournemouth Little Theatre, Bournemouth KD Johnson 9 April 2024


I came to this production with no knowledge of this 1977 mystery farce or of the fascinating imagination of the American playwright, Jack Sharkey (1931 – 1992) – or so I thought. Retrospectively, having seen and enjoyed this play, I realise that I once reviewed one of his other plays, Bone Chiller!, written under the nom-de-plume Monk Ferris. There are certain similarities – notably in the set, which looks like a standard contemporary (1970s) living room but has a number of features hidden within it, which I won’t reveal.

The play is billed as a “mystery farce”, which begs the question just what is a mystery farce? I am not sure that I have an answer. We are tempted at first to believe that it is really rather cheesy and that the acting is hammed-up (ham and cheese?) – but that’s all part of the gag. Just about every clichéd element of classic detective whodunnits is set up and then knocked down for fun. It is confusing in parts but immense fun to watch. The cast clearly have a field day with Sharkey’s complex verbal sophistry, including forward, backward and even circular repartee; I am sure it has taken a lot of rehearsal time to get it right.

Barry Gray plays both the elderly, upper‑class twit, Edgar Hollister, and excels as the plodding but diligent Police Constable Howard. Denise King has a great role as new wife Mavis Hollister – although I wouldn’t accept a cup of cocoa from her if I were you. Alice Hannibal is good as Susan Hollister, Edgar’s upper‑class twit daughter by his first wife, while Jay Knox convinces as her handsome, young, American millionaire fiancé. Stolid Police Inspector Crandall, who is called in to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the aforementioned upper‑class twit, is well portrayed by John Sivewright. Finally, Nicola King plays the long-serving housekeeper, Mrs Lottie (or is it Lettie?😉) Molloy.

All is not what it seems and a riot of comedy and confusion ensues.

There is the odd bit of fluff in the complex dialogue on opening night and I’m not sure whether something goes wrong in a scene where strange noises are coming from the cellar. Mavis Hollister’s face makeup looks grey or even greenish in some scenes and I’m sure that shouldn’t be the case. Strange noises do, indeed, come from the cellar and also from various other places around the set, for which credit is due to Martyn Savage on sound. The set design and construction is ingenious and causes a good deal of hilarity – particularly in the final slapstick sequence, in which lights go on and off and different people end up holding the revolver. Did I mention the revolver (in the living room?😊) – there are gunshots; those of nervous disposition beware! I wonder whether the banana is just something that crept in during rehearsal and has remained for comic effect – there is something intrinsically comedic about a banana.

I wish I could watch it again – but I understand that it is sold out for the run.

Our thanks and congratulations are due to director Don Cherrett, the backstage team and to the cast for another excellent production.