The whodunnit musical Curtains meets everybody’s favourite video conferencing software Zoom in this nine-part murder mystery by Rachel Axler and Kait Kerrigan. Having been created and developed in America last year, it is now premiering in the UK with an array of stage stars-turned-suspects.
When jaded traffic warden Justine Case (Emma Salvo) is inexplicably asked to investigate a killing, she eagerly dons her deerstalker and heads to the crime scene. There, a gaggle of outlandish guests of West End producer Varthur McArthur (Jason Manford) nervously, bitterly and/or hungrily await questioning.
Annoyingly, the reason Justine is asked to step up is never addressed and, as the main character, her aversion to theatre is unfortunate. Salvo nevertheless pumps the new mystery-solver with musical energy, expressing her excitement with the help of her pet pooch as well as comedic outfit changes in the song ‘Today’s Detective’.
As Varthur’s Stage Manager, the Leeds-born Clarke Staples, Lucas Rush delivers Nathan Tysen’s fast, punchy lyrics with flair during ‘Boom! Shout! The Lights Went Out’. He amps up this catchy tune with a Northern twang and humorous gesticulations.
Oscar Conlon-Morrey gives a killer performance as Production Designer Shea Crescendo. He lends his compelling voice to ‘Circus on the Sea’ in which he is supported by an ensemble consisting of a dozen differently dressed versions of himself. At this party, Conlon-Morrey certainly is the life and soul of it.
Soon it can be seen how this piece suffers from too large a cast, as subsequent characters that are introduced cause others to disappear into the ether. Their personalities also lack variety: simply put, they are all just a bit crazy. This limits the humour, as does the contemporary but limited and repeated references to Tik Tok and Les Misérables as well as, in some instances, poor comic timing.
Although the Cluedo-like animations between scenes are a creative way to show the characters moving around the house, the dialogue sequences separating the songs quickly become tedious. Conlon-Morrey’s second number- ‘Shipload of Fools’- is constantly interrupted by idle speech.
Often, they do not progress the plot either. There is a completely random cameo from a miniature Ben Forster, whose ‘Big Cat’ may be a powerful ballad, but it serves no real purpose to the story. Fans of the big names, take note: both Forster and Manford’s roles are small.
There are some clever nods to the fact that this is a virtual production: when Vivika Orsonwelles (Debbie Kirkup) and George Murderer (Cedric Neal) duet in ‘Never Miss My Mark’, they fight for the limelight- or, in this case, the ‘Speaker View’ screen.
For the most part, the soundtrack’s joyful tone does not quite match what would be expected of A Killer Party; there is one particularly strange, upbeat song about hands that came across as something more likely to be heard in a David Walliams adaptation. Replacing some of the pop with suspenseful music would have balanced it out.
The basic outfits look like they have been provided for a DIY murder mystery party, and the creative team do what they can with the limitations of a socially distanced set.
Deliciously deadly and dangerously silly. If you’re going to A Killer Party, watch your back! https://www.akillerparty.co.uk/
Reviewer: Scot Cunningham
Reviewed: 5th May 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★