An hilarious whodunnit is Eastern Angles winter warmer

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Dial M for Murgatroyd, by Julian Harries and Pat Whymark, Eastern Angles at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich until January 12, 2013; Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, Jan 15-26

The body count is high but nowhere near as high as the innuendo tally.

A couple of lines into Eastern Angles’ annual Christmas romp, the audience is laughing. It sets the mood for an evening which taps the rich vein of comic insanity we have come to know and love as the stamp of a writing team Julian Harries and Pat Whymark, and they also direct this madcap variation on a well-loved theme.

Along with the theatrical anarchy of five people taking on 20 roles, this is a rollicking good whodunnit with great music.

Honestly? By the end, my face was aching from variously smiling, chuckling and laughing out loud as I watched this fabulous concoction of silliness, loosely based on an Agatha Christie Miss Marple story.

Miss Jane Murgatroyd is called to the village of by her friend Violet Fitzall (yes, I know...) when the Essex-branded Fitzall butlers (Barking, Braintree etc) start dropping like flies, in one case, literally.

But are they the intended victims? No, probably not.

And what exactly is going on with Fitzall and his not-very-macho son Fenton down in the cellar?

And is gung-ho, trigger-happy big game hunter Georgina, the Fitzall daughter, harbouring murderous intentions because of her arranged marriage to a local rubber baron?

And does the rubber reference prompt any ghastly puns? What do you think?

Meanwhile, what’s happened to Georgina’s gorilla?

There are also a number of suspicious types lurking around the village and Inspector Jessop and Miss Murgatroyd are quickly on the case. Who will identify the murderer? Does it matter?

There is also the small, or rather, large matter of who will produce the biggest marrow for the Great Clumping horticultural show.

These and many other questions will be answered in full in an hilarious evening of glorious fun.

As well as co-writing and directing, Julian Harries’ triple whammy is completed by also being in the cast. As the inspector and Clive Fitzall his inner loveable scamp shines through a delicious performance of thinly veiled bonkersness.

Perhaps the most hilarious moment of the show is provided by the consummate Patrick Marlowe who, with seven roles to juggle, plays a two-handed scene solo... including costume and accent changes.

The show boasts a strong and multi-talented ensemble with Emma Finlay, as Violet and (very) Mad Meg, Deborah Hewitt as Georgina and the enigmatic Rose Early, and Samuel Martin as Fenton plus four are tremendous. Musicians, singers and nice movers all.

The set is tremendously effective with an acting area used to great effect, especially in the delightful “spilt-screen” action. The props are inventive, Pat Whymark’s music is terrific and the whole production moves on at a hugely enjoyable lick.

Like all the best Christmas crackers this explosively funny show has novelties, gags and hats (well, wigs anyway).

LYNNE MORTIMER

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