THOSE “plays that go wrong” are now big TV as well as stage hits, but David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jnr have been doing it for decades with the Farndale series.
The current show at the Swan in Yeovil, Murder at Checkmate Manor, is a perfect spoof on the country house murder mystery, and like all the others in the series, the all female cast is a gift for am dram socs, but no easy task. Each is a play within a play, and I’ve never seen it done better than the Swan company under the direction of Andy Taylor.
The setting is the AGM of the Townswomen’s Guild, in which both a play and a fashion show are interwoven with the business of the meeting. Guild members Audrey, Felicity, Sylvia and Thelma, under the authoritarian eye of Mrs Phoebe Reece, not only elect the committee for the coming year, but also play all 15 roles in the murder mystery, set in the 1920s in Checkmate Manor, where the owners are called Bishop and the butler yclept Pawn.
From the rickety and often collapsible set to the makeshift props, the caricature characters to the improbable storylines, this one’s a classic.
I have never seen Tanya Ogden give a better performance than as Audrey, who plays Lady Doreen Bishop, Violet Bishop, Joan Bishop and Mrs King. Her comic timing is perfect and she manages to differentiate vividly between her characters.
Vivienne Evans is the pretentious Mrs Reece, even managing to re-write the script during the performance to give her secondary character, Regine, the best role.
Ann Cook’s Pawn is a masterpiece of butlerism, thinly disguised as Col King and even Mrs Castle.
Emma Read’s ingenue Rose and Daphne are a joy, as is Elaine Taylor’s inspector. The two of them even manage a snatch of musical comedy with I Could Be Happy with You.
The show is a much needed laugh in dark times, and done with a delirious delicacy. Go and see it.