Murder In Play

Boris Smolensky's budget repertory production of Murder At Priorswell Manor is looking decidedly shaky. The cast are more interested in their egos than the play, and life imitates art when Boris's wife, Renee, is murdered on stage. Was it Ginette, Boris's pretty but dippy mistress? Or was it Boris himself? And is there more to Boris and stage-manager Pat's stormy relationship than meets the eye? The hilarious text employs a play-within-a-play device to ruthlessly satirize the politics of the inept company and numerous red herrings keep the audience guessing until the final moments of the action.

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This recent production by Lucilla Dramatic Society proved both entertaining and unusual. Directed by Bob Stone and set on a rehearsal stage, where a D-list touring company is vainly trying to knock a murder mystery into shape, ready to open the following night, the comedy thriller by Simon Brett uses the device of a play-within-a-play to good effect. As the play's format was initially kept from the audience, the opening minutes passed in stunned silence, as we watched this popular and talented local society apparently presenting a load of rubbish!
Murder In Play Poster

However, it soon became clear why most of the cast had two identities, as the 'rehearsal' was interrupted and the wooden characters reverted to their 'normal' selves, although whether 'normal' is quite the right description of these people is doubtful. Sometimes the 'actors' seemed as bizarre as their alter egos!

Despite the appearance in the spoof murder of a 'corpse', covered in stage blood, the true villainy occurred when the leading actress was given a glass of poisoned sherry and became a real-life corpse, so to speak. Since she was as popular as a fox in a chicken-house, the question was not so much "Who dun it?" as "Who didn't?"

As the story unfolded and 'director' Boris Smolensky made useless attempts to control his mutinous cast, even postponing the opening in an effort to bring the production up to standard, it became clear that the offstage jealousies and rivalry among the actors themselves outweighed
anything in their so-called "production".

The Lucilla players acquitted themselves well in what was not an easy piece to present. The six actors who had the difficult task of stepping in and out of character in the play-within-a-play handled their dual - and sometimes triple - roles with skill. Alison Jones - as Renee Savage - played the haughty Lady Dorothy Cholmondely until her untimely, paraquat-fuelled demise at the end of Act 1. Ann Birch - as Christa D'Amato - was the lowly housekeeper, Mrs Puttock until Act 2, when she emerged as the new Lady Dorothy. Liz Wall - as Ginette Vincent - was the aristocratic Lady Virginia Cholmondely, until she was arrested on suspicion of murder, when actress Sophie Lawton, played by Wendy Stone - previously playing housemaid Triggs - stepped into her elegant shoes.

David Sumner - alias Harrison Bracewell - used some wiggery-pokery to play both the dastardly Mr Papadopoulos and the detective investigating the (fictional) murder! Confused?... You should bel! The 'alternative' cast was completed by Major Rodney Pirbright, played by Tim Fermor - alias Andrew Rice-Oxley, who managed to portray shell shock and a stiff upper lip at the same time. In his other life he was also the Equity representative! The two remaining members of the 'normal' cast were Boris Smolensky and his assistant, Pat. Peter Mercer's fine portrayal of the megalomaniac Boris left us wondering how this obnoxious character could ever inspire such devotion in women that they were prepared to commit murder for his favour. The part of Pat, the much put-upon stage manager, was convincingly played by Moira Weston. Bustling about the stage with her hammer, nails and paintbrush she seemed at times to be the only sane member of the group. Her forthright reaction when forced to play a part ("I'm not a bloody actress!") was typical of the character and the ultimate revelation of her secret love for Boris lent a touch of genuine pathos to her unmasking as the murderess.

We never found out if the "murder mystery" opened on time, but Lucilla's production certainly did and provided a most enjoyable evening. Director Bob Stone used the auditorium as well as the stage, to create the rehearsal atmosphere and helped us, the audience, to feel we were part of the action.

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