25th Sep, 2017

Theatre Review - 'Murder in Play' at the Coach House Theatre

Malvern Editorial 13th Sep, 2017

Murder in Play by Simon Brett – Reviewed by Lee Farley.

Malvern Theatre Players

Coach House Theatre

Sept 12, 2017

MALVERN Theatre Players, as I’m sure most readers are aware, are a local amateur company who have performed a variety of productions over 40 years at the heart of Malvern’s theatre scene.

They offer fantastic opportunities for local performers, directors, designers and technicians – contact them at the Coach House and YOU could feature in the next show.

The company is an invaluable community asset, and the current production of ‘Murder In Play’ demonstrates one of the main reasons people like to get involved – it’s great fun!

Simon Brett’s 1994 comic murder mystery follows a well-trodden path.

A theatre company led by John Denham’s exasperated but charismatic Boris Smolensky are rehearsing for ‘Murder at Priorswell Manor’, a play which Ben Swift’s enjoyably uptight Equity shop steward Tim describes as old-fashioned and tacky.

Rehearsals aren’t going well, and ‘Murder In Play’ spends its first half introducing us to its conventional cast of characters, before turning into an unimaginative murder mystery in the second half.

Most scenes are clunky exposition dumps, it’s remarkable just how many conversations start, “So…. I hear you’re having an affair / still drinking / sacked from your TV show / …”.

There’s no character development, authentic dialogue, subtlety or any of the hallmarks of good playwriting.

Simon Brett is attempting to satirise bad theatre, but this is a dangerous tightrope to tread when your own writing fails to recognise some basic theatre principles.

This is a play which always tells, but never shows.

However, director Jan Greig has assembled an excellent cast who are clearly having oodles of the aforementioned fun, and they somehow manage to shape Simon Brett’s “oldfashioned and tacky” play into a strong comedy entertainment.

There are some excellent set-piece moments which the Players handle with 40 years’ worth of experience.

They know how to make stage business irresistibly amusing; Andrew Howie’s ongoing relationship with the malfunctioning cupboard, Gill Young’s exhibition of “old” acting, Sue Lupton’s razor-sharp bitterness.

There’s commendable performance work throughout the company – Catherine Crosswell’s cynicism concerning her role of Triggs (effectively ‘Maid 2’) is played with wit and understatement, Elizabeth Toone’s oppressed stage manager Pat is believable and sympathetic, and Lindsay Tudhope manages to elevate the giddy, confused Jeanette into a realistic character, in spite of Simon Brett’s inability to create anything more than a cliché.

The cast are clearly reveling in the comedy inherent in the difference between naturalistic acting and attempting to follow Boris Smolensky’s hopeless directing.

Their enjoyment is infectious.

Malvern Theatre Players have offered theatrical entertainments for 40 years, from Shaw and Shakespeare to farce and Simon Brett. ‘Murder In Play’ is crudely written but terrifically performed.

The production runs until Saturday and it’s well worth catching to experience this company demonstrate clearly that community theatre is inspiring, essential and thoroughly enjoyable.

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