FringeReview UK 2017
Directed by Tina Sitko it’s a play needing a soufflé touch. Steven Adams’ 1980s-style set painted by Tom Williams, with typical American accoutrements of violence on eggshell blue walls nods to a style seen in Ira Levin’s Deathtrap. Adams’ lighting highlights the resolver’s face like a halo. He’s responsible for sound design too (both operated by Rosie Ross) and joins the cast, as does Myles Locke who with Ann Atkins and cast is also responsible for costume.
It’s hard to believe Brighton Little Theatre have mounted
anything as silly as A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody for decades. Ron Bernas’ 1991 hommage to 1930s-40s screwball comedies isn’t exactly farce, like the sublime Boeing-Boeing seen here in February last year. Bernas defines screwball comedies as ‘really intelligent people doing really stupid things. My play ended up being really stupid people doing really stupid things.’ It also ended up less dark than planned, which he rightly felt was the way to go. Directed by Tina Sitko it’s a play needing a soufflé touch: prick it, it deflates. Don’t even think of the raiser of plausibility.
The play opens on one New Year’s Eve, ending on another. Steven Adams’ 1980s-style set painted by Tom Williams, with typical American accoutrements of violence on eggshell blue walls nods to a style seen in Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, that unexpected murder comedy recently at the Theatre Royal. French windows open onto various seasonal vistas and seasonal trimmings – lights, cards and other actions.
Resolutions are made; Adams’ lighting highlights the resolver’s face like a halo. He’s responsible for sound design too (both operated by Rosie Ross) and he’s also the wealthy husband Matthew Perry who tells his far more intelligent wife Julia (Caroline Lambe) that seeing the joy a friend’s widowing has bestowed on him, he’s going to murder her in the coming year. Divorce? No, she’d get half.
Julia vows to remain alive and in this amicable absurdity they roll the game of dice and death Julia finds curiously stimulating. Of course she’ll tell no-one. Lambe’s engaging urbanity somehow conveys affection, even a curious surrender to her husband’s murderous foolery. Adams exudes solid buffoonery. It’s a tricky role playing an idiot plotter with two left brains.
There’s the little impediment that Bunny their dipsy daughter (she’s inherited Matthew’s brains, Julia’s beauty) is serious about Maximus Polling’s Freddy Baxter, a man seeking a father he never knew, fleeing a horrendous mother. Any killing mustn’t interfere with their marriage plans Julia protests. Georgina Robinson’s silliness as Bunny is of a high order; she’s beguiling, horribly convincing and timely. Suitor Polling’s no slouch here either, the smart investor who’s sweet on Bunny’s unaffected innocence or is that ignorance? As Wilde says, touch it and the bloom is gone.
Curiously, he’s not the only investor. Butler Buttram makes a killing in stocks imitating Matthew’s voice over the phone. Myles Locke – with Ann Atkins also responsible for costume – might not always land his accent as New England or transatlantic British butler, but he oozes tone and poise, as well as an alarmingly unsuitable capacity to weep. Fired once a day for the past twenty-three years, Buttram’s otherwise lamenting a one-day wife who took off when she realises what his job was. Julia receives the brunt of this confidence. Which leads to confusion.
Matthew starts that night with paté but the dog apparently gets it. Then a group of offstage women via weedkiller. Equally offstage Bitsy, Julia’s sexually voracious sister, perishes with the hunky pool attendant via electrocution (frazzled hair for him, poisoned salad for her) and the gardener via a falling statue. But why did Julia ask about what salad it was? Is Matthew, aiming at Julia, missing her well enough? Is there a darker sillier secret?
You’d think Leigh Ward’s Detective Plotnik with his ‘broads’ and ‘sister’ might fathom it all. After all he’s there often enough. Ward’s Brooklyn Polack has everything but the right hat. Even dressed as Miss Marple in the last act (no, you’ll have to see why for yourself) there’s a poisoned dart to negotiate, a hangover and the altogether sharper Freddy, who overhears everything but the right bits and still gets near.
Just how even he’s wide of the mark though won’t be revealed….. until New Year’s Eve. For the person who thinks he knows everything, or the one who thinks he’s calculated everything, let’s just say there’s a scatter of clues, but the biggest ones of all aren’t even predictable.
A gloriously silly interlude, then. Ideally this needs a lift to deadpan snap delivery. Otherwise the soufflé does scrunch a bit. But with BLT there’s never anything less than carat quality production and as usual some treasurable performances. Do see this rarity and you’ll end up agreeing with Bernas, and the team here.