Seeing a play taking on a very well-known genre and trying to reference it, turning it into something different, is an entertaining and educational experience, though things can turn out less interesting than expected, if the intentions are better than the implementation.
This show, written by Peter Rae, and directed by Helen Bang, both doubling as actors, is an attempt at making fun of the genre of the Murder Mystery trope. While the intentions are clear from the beginning, the actual running of the show is a hot mess of overly saturated references and misplaced punchlines.
The show starts with “Manning – The Butler”, portrayed by Christian Ballantyne, who is cleaning some props on stage, and makes the first attempt at getting the audience to laugh, when spitting a candleholder while looking at the audience. While comedy can usually be a self-aware genre, playing on the convention that the characters can see the absurd in their situation, characters and actors that intentionally attempt to be laughable is closer to tragedy than to comedy. This seems to be the case in this play, where there are one too many failed punchlines and unlanded jokes.
This is not to say the play does not have interesting moments to enjoy, such as the séance led by the character of “Lady Susan Bloom – The Psychic”, portrayed by Bang, or the letters that get confused by “Isabella – The Maid”, who Holly Ashman plays with freshness and innocence. The Patriarch played by Toby Wynn Davies is the one that brings the most powerful performance, with a character that is hateful to the bone, and worked through a clear, risky, and interesting body composition.
The play runs for nearly two hours, with an intermission, and the cliches of mystery murder plays are explored, though not thoroughly developed. To give an example, the conflict of the narrators at the beginning seems a lost opportunity to play with the usually conflicting narrations withing murder mysteries, and it barely comes up again. The characters are likable, but they seem to be looking to be accepted and cared for, and that doesn’t seem to play well at the end.
After watching the play, the sensation was that the idea was good, even if other attempts at murder mystery parodies have already been done with more or less success. But the rhythm of the performance is uneven, sometimes rushed, sometimes lacking intensity, sometimes with too much screaming to show the intensity that doesn’t want to come.
All being said, some laughs can be found in the characters and their failures, and the Lighting Design by Roel Fox really creates an immersive mood at times.
Playing until 11th March, https://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/an-absolute-farce-of-a-murder-mystery
Reviewer: Gonzalo Sentana
Reviewed: 28th February 2023
North West End UK Rating: ★★