Wednesday, July 6

Father Brown The Murderer in the Mirror – Blackpool Grand

Amongst the array of great literary detectives, Father Brown, the ‘hero’ of GK Chesterton’s short stories is something of an antithesis of the larger-than-life personalities we have become accustomed to. The usual rock-solid confidence in one’s own genius that is the hallmark of many of our famous sleuths is contrasted sharply by the unassuming way Father Brown will sit back and quietly observe, letting his companions talk themselves into confessions of malcontent and murder.

Rumpus theatre company have woven one such story into the classic theatrical ‘whodunnit’ formula to present ‘The Murderer in the Mirror’ starring John Lyons – well-known to audiences thanks to his TV work as DS George Toolan, sidekick to the great Sir David Jason’s DI Frost.

In this tale, a well-known actor and theatre producer, Mundon Mandeville (played by the show’s writer John Goodrum) is found shot dead before the opening night of his new play. Father Brown, who has been invited to watch the final dress rehearsal, has his work cut out to identify the culprit given that the majority of suspects were onstage at the time of the murder. The only real clue is a shattered dressing room mirror.

Our titular priest explains how memory is unreliable as he starts to unravel the movements and motives of our supporting ensemble. Unfortunately, for them, tonight’s show is largely forgettable.

The cast do their best to work in a few secrets and lies to draw out something of a story – particularly Christopher Brookes as Norman Knight, a promising young actor who is full of ideas as to the murderer is – and there are a few attempted red herrings dotted through the script.

Lyons himself suits the Father Brown character very well, with a gentle and genial manner that belies the priest’s keen eyes and sharp mind but isn’t given heaps to do – albeit that is the nature of the character.

But the play’s fundamental flaw is that its source material is a short story – drawing out nearly two hours of theatre from a handful of pages is no easy task and the result is sadly one of two-dimensional characters with weak motives, and very few of the twists and turns that would usually make a denouement a satisfying one (instead it feels rather abrupt).

The simple set and lighting design (one that looks constructed with the practicalities of touring in mind) is a little lost on the big stage of the Blackpool Grand. With the action being largely set in the backstage corridor of the theatre, it forces things to remain rather static, with actors repeatedly stood in a line-up. The whole thing has a tone of ‘am dram’ (and being brutally honest, there have been far superior amateur productions to tonight’s fare.)

There are still enjoyable moments of humour, particularly in the dry wit of Father Brown’s dialogue, and in some of the more farcical moments of the play-within-a-play we are witness to, as the actors rehearse for opening night. Also, the music selections that punctuate the proceedings are suitably spine-tingling.

Ultimately, it’s a passable watch but, with uneven pacing – creakingly slow at the start, rushed and a little bit clumsy at the end – and unexciting storytelling, the aftertaste is a show that is more filler, less thriller. 

Father Brown plays at the Blackpool Grand till Saturday 26th March 2022. For info and tickets visit: https://www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk/event/father-brown-the-murderer-in-the-mirror-2  

Reviewer: Lou Steggals

Reviewed: 22nd March 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★

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