TWENTY years ago the members of Mere Amateur Dramatic Society staged Peter Gordon’s spoof murder mystery Murdered to Death, to great acclaim by the audience who named it the funniest play the company has ever done.
So it’s no surprise that director Chris Wood (who played the more-than-bumbling Inspector Pratt in the 2003 production) decided a revival was needed, and one that could be dedicated to the memory of MADS stalwart Di Potter, who died earlier this year.
It is set in a country house in the mid 1930s, and the ten-strong cast encapsulate the characters beloved of Agatha Christie in her famous whodunnits – a wealthy woman, her downtrodden niece, her drunken butler, The Colonel and his wife, a daffy socialite, a suave Frenchman, a solid local police constable, a self-important police inspector and, of course, a celebrated sleuth from the village – in this case Miss Joan Maple.
Thanks to decades of stylish television, cinema and stage productions of such fare, we all have clear ideas of how those people will look, sound and move, and it is impossible for the average amateur dramatic society to be able to fulfil those expectations exactly. Some of their available performers will be too short, too old, too young, have the wrong voices or the wrong demeanor. There isn’t much time or scope for re-characterisation in what is essentially a caricature play, but it’s no less funny for that.
In Murdered to Death, Mildred (subtly and elegantly played by MADS newcomer Christina Day) has invited friends round to her home for the first time in many months. She is awaiting the arrival of old flame Colonel Charles Craddock and his redoubtable wife Margaret, French art expert Pierre Marceau and London socialite Elizabeth Hurley-Trumpington. Old family retainer Bunting is hitting the sherry again, while niece Dorothy keeps it all together.
No sooner have Charles and Margaret appeared than Mildred has told them she’s leaving the bulk of her considerable estate to Dorothy, and, left with Charles, told HIM that she has always loved him, and, in the event of Dorothy’s demise, he’ll get the dosh.
Enter Miss Maple, who inveigles an invitation to lunch, and while Mildred goes into the next room to find a book, sits by the fire while a gloved hand clutching a pistol comes round the door and bang – the returning Mildred, clutching book, is no more.
That’s just the start of the shootings, which continue when Insp Pratt arrives with local bobby Constable Tomkins. The verbal fun is fast and furious as the death toll rises. But who done it, and why??
Allan Glide is a marvellously droll Bunting, and Peter Landymore the sensible Tomkins, with Leslie Love the oh-so-recognisable Colonel’s wife. Once again MADS regular Mary White shows her prodigious skills at nuanced timing and pace, creating her own version of Maple/Marple/Marbles.
Jon Noble’s Insp Pratt has so many wrong words and prat(t) falls that it’s easy to get as confused as he is. Babs Stanzl’s Dorothy is the perfect, and unfortunate, foil, and Mark Grant’s Pierre Marceau is the archetypical French con man, with Juliet Booth as she-who-might-not-be-who-she-seems. Les Manwaring’s choleric Colonel had some nicely unexpected moments.
It’s a hoot.