Theatre – Bloody Murder
Venue: Genesian Theatre
Written By: Ed Sala
Directed By: Michael Heming
You need not be familiar with the conventions of Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries to enjoy Bloody Murder but if you are, this excellent production is exceptionally funny.
Initially, the play appears to be a standard Christie piece. Set in the English countryside of the 1930s, all of the action takes place in the beautifully evoked gracious drawing room of the elegant Lady Somerset (Narelle Jaegar). She, a woman with a wicked sense of humour, has invited a group of ill-assorted guests, who, we learn from her sponging nephew (Brendan Kelly), all have secrets they would prefer not to reveal.
The scheming Lady Somerset has of, course, arranged for both chauffeur and car to be absent, and as she pulls the telephone’s wiring from the wall she gloatingly tells her guests that they are 40 miles from the nearest village. In true British style, the quests agree to make the best of it and enjoy their weekend in the country but we know that before long a murder or two or even three will ensue.
The guests are the staples of the country-house mystery: a pompous retiree from the Indian Service, Major Quimby (Stephen Holland) in puttees, an aging alcoholic actor, Devon Tremaine (David Luke) in a velvet smoking jacket, Emma Reese, an apparently innocent young woman in a floral dress, played by Emma Wright, who doubles as an exotic and shifty Countess in red satin, a Mr Woo (also Luke) in oriental garb, and of course, Lady Somerset’s soberly-attired maid, Jane (Lois Marsh).
Some of the genre’s conventions are used to hilarious effect. The famous phrase uttered by many unsuspecting murder victims as, startled by an ominously creaking door, they turn and say with a relieved smile, “Oh, it’s only you”, is greeted gleefully by the audience. The strategies used by writers to bring unexpected characters into an out-of-the-way place is used to create delightful chaos, as Chief Inspector Phelps (Kelly), the continental thief El Gato (Luke), a motorist looking suspiciously like Miss Marple (Marsh), and a nun (Marsh) arrive one after another on absurd pretexts.
Alas, you can’t be told any more as the genre is plot driven, and the thrill is in finding out who-dun-it, how-many-they-dun-it-to and why-they-dun-it. In this case, the plot takes a really unexpected and intriguing turn, ensuring that an old genre can keep up with the deconstructionist meta-Joneses.
To be funny doesn’t come naturally and congratulations must go to a tight script, a superb cast with good timing, and their clever director.