The whodunit is a theatrical staple. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has recently celebrated its 250,000th performance over 60 years in the West End but in Eastern Angles marvelous mad murder mystery the genre has been given an anarchic makeover.
The traditional ‘whodunit’ cry of ‘the butler did it’ doesn’t last long here as the menservants of Fitzall Hall tend to have an unfortunate habit of ending up murdered. Braintree, Barking and Wivenhoe all come to a sticky end in quick succession leading to the conclusion that a murderer may be on the prowl.
As is Eastern Angles festive custom, tongue remains firmly in cheek as Julian Harries and Pat Whymark’s script firmly lampoons the crime thriller. It’s all done in an affectionate way, though, with plenty of lovingly crafted references that fans of Poirot, Marple et al will revel in spotting.
When the body count threatens to rival that of Midsummer Murders, the Fitzalls decide to call in help. Queue the arrival of amateur sleuth, the deceptively masculine Miss Jane Murgatroyd and local police Inspector Jessop. Is the killer targeting butlers or is there another target? What happened to gun-toting Georgina’s monkey? What is Colonel Sir Clive Fitzall and his son, Fenton, doing in the cellar and can the family solve the problem before they run out of Essex named butlers?
Much fun is made of the small cast with some cleverly observed costume and character swapping allowing for some lightning-fast doubling. As ever with Eastern Angles clever use is made from the limited stage space, with simple props being used to ingenious effect.
There’s not a weak link in the company, all of who revel in their slightly bonkers creations. Patrick Marlowe’s butch Miss Murgatroyd, Samuel Martin’s camp as a row of tents Fenton, Deborah Hewitt’s ‘shoot it if it moves’ Georgina, and Emma Finlay’s insane Mad Meg all gloriously over the top characters. Harries himself completes a hat trick of writing, directing and performing the dual roles of Fitzall and the bumbling Inspector Jessop.
Co-Director Wymark’s music provides plenty of comic potential, whether it’s a comic ape chase scene or an accompaniment to a barnstorming wing walking routine, never let it be said that Easter Angles Christmas shows are not inventive.
It may look and feel different from your traditional festive offering but for laughs per line it would be hard to beat. Where else can you sit and suddenly find a giant monkey sitting on your knee? Judging by the enthusiastic audience response, one suspects the phone lines to the Dial M For Murgatroyd Box Office will be red hot.