A PARTY TO MURDER
by Marcia Kash and Doug Hughes.
The Mill at Sonning Sonning Eye RG4 6TY To 22 November 2014.
Wed-Sat 6.15pm (dinner) + 8.15pm (show) Mat Sat 12.15pm (lunch) + 2.15pm (show).
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 0118 969 8000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 November.
Perfect post-prandial puzzle.
‘Private’ says the car-park notice at The Mill, whose address is Sonning Eye. Is this, then, a private eye car park?
The Mill is a theatre presenting comedies and thrillers; that opening comment won’t do anything for the laughter quotient but might match the tricks the authors of A Party to Murder use to screw-up the tension and guessing-game (with a bottle of wine for someone who works-out the culprit) of their crime-play.
They write very much in the tradition of Agatha Christie, as if the last generation of crime fiction had never happened, and call upon several notable tricks employed by ‘the queen of crime’, whose photo looks down at the happenings on a remote North American island as a crime-solving club assemble for a murder adventure.
There are apparent deaths, an apparently more real murder and an intrusive amount of back-story explanation, while a dark and stormy night provides coincidental climatic support to the goings-on, with a series of strategically placed shocks and surprises preventing over-much torpor. Some, indeed, might quite disturb the smooth digestion at a theatre where a highly pleasant meal comes as part of the package.
Holding things steady are the references back to Dame Agatha, which provide a counterpoint to the story; the murder club, the group of people on an island, the progressive rise in the body count which makes the suspect short-list ever shorter, the possibility of a collaborative plot, are among references to her novels.
And the weapons suddenly appear, either dwindling into a joke, as with a pistol-shaped cigarette lighter, or contrastingly provide a serious murder weapon, and an innocent-seeming door turns out to bring another aspect of the suspense to light, apparently inconsequential chat from early on takes on a more sinister tone.
While faithful to the Christie formula, including its dramatic limitations, the authors are also ingenious enough to move beyond pastiche to create an independent story. They, a dependable cast (including Martyn Stanbridge who gives no clue of stepping-in late after sickness had struck), and director Ian Masters create a fine closing image of mayhem and disorder.
Charles Prince: Jeremy Gittins.
McKenzie Arnold: Michelle Morris.
Elwood O’Callaghan: Martyn Stanbridge.
Henri Addison: Angela Sims.
Valerie Addison: Elizabeth Elvin.
Director: Ian Masters.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting: Matthew Biss.
Costume: Jane Kidd.
Fight director: Alison de Burgh.