Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Murdered to Death : Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Writer: Peter Gordon
Director:  Giles Watling
Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin


Murdered to Death is, according to the programme, a “hilarious pastiche on the ever-popular ‘whodunnit’ detective genre” made famous by the likes of Agatha Christie. However, I can honestly say that I did not genuinely laugh once during the entire performance. It was not hilarious, it was just poor, not quite hitting the right genre but instead coming across as a poorly acted and staged farce. I’ve seen better, similar productions at am-dram societies.

Peter Gordon’s play apparently aims to spoof the traditional features of the ‘whodunit’ genre i.e. the characters, the crime and the setting. I think the intention was to have a variety of farcically stereotyped characters as the suspects in a country house; the bumbling ex-colonel, the butler who likes a drink, the timid, put-upon niece, and the rich aunt/house-owner/first dead-un. Yet the performances of these characters was not pitched at the right level and it just came across as poor acting rather than a farce or sending up of a genre – it wasn’t entertaining, it wasn’t fun, and that, to my mind, is what a spoof should be. The majority of the characters resorted to a series of forced gestures along with pushed emotions, put not played to a high enough level to be mockingly amusing. The addition of a character called Miss Maple who brings death with her wherever she goes should have been amusing, but it just didn’t engage me and the joke was lost the minute the bumbling police detective accidentally called her ‘Miss Marple’.

I felt that Sandra Dickinson as Margaret Craddock had the best stage presence and awareness of the function of her character within the scheme of the play and how to deliver the style. Equally, the second half of the play was more watchable due to the performance of Christopher Elderwood as Constable Thompkins – he embraced the farcical nature of his character and hit the right balance between farce and sincerity.

The jokes within the script were weak and so predictable that I heard one gentleman tutting at them from behind me in the audience. They appeared to make several people laugh within the audience but I found myself beginning to laugh at the fact that other people were finding this play funny – one the biggest laughs went to the inspector’s introduction “I’m Inspector Pratt.” Perhaps I am of the wrong generation to appreciate this production, it must be said that the average audience member’s age must have been 60+.

Furthermore, I cannot particularly compliment the wobbly set design circa Crossroads, or the costume, which although mainly appropriate to the era I was distracted by the fact that nearly all the females were wearing character shoes. It’s a sign of how poor this production was that I spent several minutes admiring the brown brogue-heels of Miss Maple.

Runs at Yvonne Arnaud until 12th March 2011
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