FringeReview UK 2016
Richard Levinson and William Link of Murder She Wrote wrote a piece here adapted for the stage by the late David Rogers. Roy Marsden directs with design by Julie Godfrey. Bill Kenwright’s The Classic Thriller Theatre Company have come up here with an adjunct to their Agatha Christie series.
Bill Kenwright’s The Classic Thriller Theatre Company have come up with an adjunct to their Agatha Christie series. Richard Levinson and William Link of Murder She Wrote wrote a piece here adapted for the stage by the late David Rogers. Roy Marsden directs with design by Julie Godfrey.
It’s 1989. Renowned dramatist Alex Dennison devoted to his fiancée ex-Hollywood actress Monica Welles has written a play for her to reboot her career – Susie Amy wafts in and out like heavy smoke, conjuring a dissolving diva well. Alex Ferns’ performance convinces as a man obsessed – froward furrowed and anxious with a crumpled voice that can explode alarmingly.
The new comedy doesn’t go particularly well though, and they’re to get married next day. Welles wants Dennison away that night, then phones begging him back over, the phone goes dead, and so does she, fallen from a tenth floor balcony. It’s ruled as suicide but Dennison’s certain it isn’t. One year on he re-stages the incident covertly bringing cast, director and producer together. He’s asked the policeman who investigated the case to hide himself till anyone decides to leave when his hand will be forced.
The roles each actor and even director and producer find themselves playing uncannily resemble their lives a year ago, they declare. Dennison declares to the audience that the secret of such mysteries is to gently lead an audience the opposite way.
There are some neat turns, Mark Wynter as a flustering superannuated lothario in his last lead part, ex-ingénue now hoity lead Karen taken by Lauren Drummond seeming more suspicious and nasty by the moment, and her hapless wannabe ex Leo played by Bill Kenwright stalwart Ben Nealon. The unravelling of their intimacy to frosty scorn is nearly counterpoised by the worldly warmth and decency of producer Bella Lambe, played by multi-talented singer/actor Anita Harris who like Wynter for similar reasons seems luxury casting. Both are excellent. It’s a pity neither can sing here.
Gary Mavers edges the director’s wobble between urbanity and seething resentment nicely, and George Beach finally comes into his own as the stage hand Ernie who delivers a requiescat on failing actors everywhere – a generous and sensible move when it could easily have gone to a more active cast member. Georgia Neville as new Welsh ASM provides, as do others, welcome comic relief with bringing coffee tasting of tuna and the tang of her accent to be wounded by unreal people as she stigmatises them, from London.
The cleverness of this plot lies in the fact that nothing is as it seems, except that Monica Welles really is dead though with a capacity to walk on and assume the part her grieving lover is taking on her behalf; she also wafts in and out of his memory. Susie Amy really is dead sexy.
After a cast revolt it’s revealed by Wynter’s character that this Inspector McElroy can’t be real as he’s been dead six months. To lose an inspector to death as well seems like carelessness. Gwynfor Jones has now to step forward admitting he’s an actor, Frank Hiller, hired for the occasion for a vast sum he couldn’t turn down. We see the face of a failed or intermittent actor, and reflections on the fragility of acting at the end carry poignancy. But did McElroy die? Who’s really under suspicion?
I’m charmed – if that’s the right word – by the infinite-seeming mirrors of this neatly-wrought, deftly-tugging play. It comes with a small beating heart. The solution, or culprit doesn’t wholly convince and this could have been easily resolved. Since two of the authors really are dead it perhaps won’t be now.
Julie Godfrey has produced an attractively realistic backstage set, lit by Douglas Kuhrt with striking atmospherics and Dan Samson’s sounds doing similar honours. Of its kind it’s worth a 85% thumbs-up for plot, and others mightn’t feel that tic of reservation this writer does. Beyond that it’s even finer, and doesn’t eschew loneliness, failure or bereavement as the lot of some in the future. Emotionally it rings true enough, even if the fiendish plot, as ever, is mildly fantastical. But then the protagonist hero’s a writer, which is the point. Or as Alan Bennett might say, Enjoy.