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REVIEW: Murdered to Death, Phoenix Players, The Bear Pit Theatre, 12th May

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By Peter Buckroyd

IT was great to see almost a full house for the Phoenix Players’ production of Peter Gordon’s Murdered to Death directed by Nick Johnson last week.

The play itself is very demanding: part satire, part parody, part comedy and overall ridiculous. The trick is to get the audience to laugh by having the characters behave entirely realistically, but there is a temptation to overplay and to drift into farce. A mixture of murder mystery and ‘Allo ‘Allo!, I found the play itself to be rather creakily written with jokes often over-signalled in the text. Perhaps as a result of this the audience didn’t catch all of the sexual innuendos and some of the more risqué ones.

The play was very well presented. The country manor-house set by Graham Robson and Adam Clarke was perfect, with just enough furniture to allow for plenty of sitting down and effective sight-lines, but without cluttering the acting space, well-chosen period style magazines, a lovely globe and telephone.

Bear Pit play rehearsal. Photo: Mark Williamson B28/5/22/0927. (56592492)
Bear Pit play rehearsal. Photo: Mark Williamson B28/5/22/0927. (56592492)

Costumes by Jacqui Lindsay and Caroline Adams, too, were very well designed. It was a great decision to open the play with Annie Dixon-Dunn wearing such a beautiful dress. There were some clever touches, too: Callum McCormick as Pierre Marceau made great use of his hat throughout and the hideous bakelite pipe carried constantly by Rob Warnes as Colonel Charles Craddock but never smoked was a nice surrealistic touch.

I didn’t understand the extraordinary long blacked out pause at the end of the first half before the audience lights came on, but it did leave the audience slightly uneasy and puzzled which was in keeping with the play as a whole.

For me three performers did a particularly splendid job of looking quasi-real. Hannah Perrin as Constable Thompkins is entirely peripheral to the murder plot but she gave a touch of common sense to the proceedings and looked as if she belonged in the street rather than in this absurd world – a case of design and acting combining perfectly.

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