The souvenir programme should have been the first clue of how tonight’s proceedings were going to go. Stretched headshot pictures and typos hint at the lack of finesse that has undone what could have been an excellent concept for a parody of the classic ‘Whodunnit’.
Developed from what was a very well-received online piece during lockdown, tonight’s show from the Northern Comedy Theatre is based around the premise of a world-weary acting troupe whose schtick of putting on murder mysteries for corporate teams and parties is starting to test everyone’s patience, especially when 28 of the expected 30 punters from a local conservatory installation firm have failed to show for the latest outing. Soon a genuine murder occurs and anyone and everyone is a suspect.
Unfortunately, the transition to a live theatre show just hasn’t worked. There are some great ideas buried in poor delivery, tired jokes that are crude instead of clever and a butt-clenchingly awkward sequence where the most reluctant-looking gentleman in the world is roped in from the audience to stand in for a missing corpse. As he’s hidden away under a black sheet, I find myself wishing I could switch places so I can (partially) escape having to watch much more.
There’s a spark of hope as a twist in the second half sends things in a new direction and raises interest levels. There are a couple of genuine laugh-out-loud moments. And it must be noted that both Vikki Earle and Steven Arnold make a good fist at what they are given to do and are the most convincing performers of the group.
But the hallmark of all the parodies that gone before (The Play that Goes Wrong, 39 Steps, Murdered to Death) is that they actually have a solid murder mystery underpinning the chaos.
Instead, we have a rushed storyline that’s as weak as an asthmatic butterfly, with most of the jokes falling flat, and director Shaun Chambers failing to get a grip on inconsistent pacing, overly hammed-up acting and any clear sense of what on earth is going on.
Perhaps I’m in a minority. Certainly, judging by the enthusiastic applause at the curtain call, the audience has had a better time than their laughter let on. But by the time the truth of the whole shebang is finally revealed in the last five minutes, I find it very difficult to summon up the will to care.
Somewhere in the mounting pile of bodies remains a great idea and maybe a half-decent script but, sadly, it wasn’t on show tonight.
Reviewer: Lou Steggals
Reviewed: 30th October 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★