Murder mysteries are one of my favourite genres of fiction. So, I was extremely intrigued to see Alma Cullen transporting the iconic Inspector Morse from television to stage. Cullen has written some of the episodes for the TV series, so she should be able to bring some of that magic to the stage production.
From the beginning this has the busy going ons of a play within a play. It was rather amusing to start with, but then got far too complicated. A lot of the actors looked and sounded very similar, so it was difficult to distinguish who’s who – which is vital in a murder mystery!
The play is set in Oxford in the 1980s where a production of Hamlet is taking place. However, the young actor playing Ophelia (in this case Ciara Booker) collapses and dies on stage during the performance. As luck would have it, Inspector Morse (Jonathan Black) is sitting in the audience with his ‘friend’ Ellen (Sarat Broughton). Rather conveniently he himself was an actor in a previous life – so has a bit of history with the actors in the production, including director Lawrence Baxter (Stewart Mathers). It almost looks as if history is repeating itself, as this case is remarkably similar to one that happened 20 years ago.
There is a strong reference to religion throughout, with a priest being one of the main characters and a holy cross being projected on to the set regularly. The Catholic faith in particular is referenced on more than one occasion.
When the investigation gets going, location changes happen so frequently and characters are dropping in and out, it’s hard to keep up. This would be tricky for even the most professional of productions to get right, and I personally think this was a task too large for a non-professional theatre to take on. The acting quality was quite poor in most places, so there wasn’t really any way of bringing this to life. In some scenes I felt that people were just saying lines – not lifting the script off the page.
The lighting was a bit of an issue for me too. At times the lighting team missed their cue – the scene has already begun, and actors were standing in darkness. Although you could also argue the actors should have waited until the stage was lit to begin.
My main issue with this play is that it is suited to screen and not stage. It’s such a shame because most things I’ve seen at Altrincham Garrick have been excellent, I just think on this occasion they bit off more than they could chew.
House of Ghosts by Alma Cullen will be performed at 7.30pm each evening at the Altrincham Garrick Theatre until Saturday, 28th May 2022. Tickets and information can be found here – https://www.altrinchamgarrick.co.uk/shows/house-of-ghosts/
Reviewer: Brian Madden
Reviewed: 23rd May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★