Crimes on the Coast, New Old Friends at Theatre Royal, Bath

HEADED by Heather Westwell and Feargus Woods  Dunlop, who founded the company in 2008, Frome based New Old Friends have spent the past 11 years honing their comedy skills presenting their own original creations to a wider and wider audience. This production which set off on its travels in the Spring of last year under the title of Crimes Under the Sun, returns to Bath as part of a tour ranging from Dumfries to Southampton, not only has a completely new cast, but also a new name, Crimes on the Coast.

The change of title was brought about because of a request  from the Agatha Christie Estate who thought that with a plot and characters having quite a bit in common with the queen of mystery writers’ Evil  Under the Sun, there was room for confusion. Indeed we do have a Belgian detective  who continually refers to the little grey cells, the plot is set in a hotel on a small island just of the mainland, and all 15 of the guests could be the murder.
For all of that this is an original work which has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek from start to finish seeking to bring as much laughter to the audience as possible. Our Belgian sleuth is a lady, with no sign of a distinctive mustache anywhere to be seen, and the other fourteen characters are played by just three actors who swop roles often at such a speed that the audience have to concentrate a much as the actors in order not to lose sight of who is playing who.
The original cast, which included co-authors Heather Westwell and Feargus Woods Dunlop, grew up with the play, and in addition to knowing every line of the script I dare say evolved a great deal of comic business during their stay with the show. Although Bath was the seventh venue on their 21-date tour and the four players worked very much as a team, there was a feeling that this was still a work in progress and that new pieces of comedy, both verbally, in the style and timing of delivery, and physically were surreptitiously being added all the time.
Do not run away with the impression that this is not in its present form anything but a rattling good evening’s entertainment. From the moment Ashley Christmas sets the scene as ace detective Artemis Arinae, brushing aside any suggestion that a woman cannot be as successful as a man when it comes to solving crime,  the audience knew they could sit back and enjoy their evening at the theatre. Hannah Genesius, Jon-Paul Rowden and Luca Thompson then presented one  logical suspect after another, each with a distinctive character of their own and buckets full of red herrings in order to lead you down the wrong road.
It was the frantic last quarter of the play, when three actors were at times playing several different characters in the same scene, as Artemis Arinae tried to unravel the multi strands of the plot to the audience, that this quartet showed that they have already blended together as a good team of farceurs, the laughter coming here as thick and fast as their changes of character.
Between now and November 9th, when Crimes on the Cost finishes its tour in Basingstoke,  there are west country dates at Yeovil {2nd October},  Weymouth {22nd Oct}, Exeter {23rd Oct} and Ilfracombe {6th November}.
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