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Murder on Cue

by on 3 April 2019

Corpsing on Stage

Murder on Cue

by Robin Jennifer Miller

Rare Fortune Productions at the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 6th April

Review by Andrew Lawston

As if there weren’t enough actors living in Barnes already, the OSO has been transformed into Maple Lodge: a small but comfortable retirement home where a select group of thespians spend their autumn years sipping glasses of dry sherry, reliving past glories, and indulging old grudges. And possibly committing murders?

Robin Jennifer Miller brings her second play, Murder on Cue, to the OSO with Rare Fortune Productions, following last year’s enjoyable farce Liberty Hall. This time she has turned her sights on that other mainstay of British theatre, the murder mystery.

Maple Lodge’s relentlessly chipper manager Sue (Julie Haythorn) is not having a good day. The home has been cut off from the outside world by a blizzard, someone is sending poison pen letters to her residents, and the council are threatening to close her down. The one bright spot is that she has been named as a beneficiary in the will of one of the residents.

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As the residents gather in the home’s lounge for drinks, along with the wonderfully obnoxious Gareth (James Price) nephew to the pugnacious resident Sybil (Sylvia Carson), many of their past misdeeds are revealed. The emotional stakes are raised and everyone takes a turn to look suitably suspicious until, inevitably, a dead body turns up just in time for the interval. Murder on cue, indeed!

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In addition to writing Murder on Cue, Robin Miller appears as one of the actors, the apparently timid and fragile Desiree, and I’ve often observed that you can usually tell that a play has been written by an actor from the fact that everyone in the cast gets a decent joke. Here, there is a real ensemble feeling to the cast. Leonora Fyfe’s spirited Judy gets a lot more to do than your average cleaner in a murder mystery, and the murder victim spends most of the first half being so wonderfully unpleasant as to give the entire cast a motive! Martin Wimbush gives a poignant performance as Charles, an apparently restrained man, spending a lifetime regretting youthful mistakes, while Gregory Cox often dominates the room as Larry – positively relishing his own colourful past. Hilary Derrett’s Olivia clashes with him frequently, as the other larger than life character among the actors. Carolyn Pertwee’s character Molly remains an enigma throughout much of the play, always observing but speaking comparatively rarely.

It’s amusing that in a play full of characters complaining about being upstaged, however, director Maurice Thorogood gives each character time to shine and the cast is extremely well-balanced.

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Miller’s new play embraces the genre’s tropes full-bloodedly, and often with its tongue firmly in its cheek. The cast are playing it straight, but most of them are also playing wonderfully camp old actors who are visibly glorying in the chaos and mystery that surrounds them.

The set, full of comfortable chairs and drinks cabinets, surrounded by drapes and faded black and white photos of the characters in their heyday, conveys the setting from the outset. The cheeky renditions of the Casualty and Midsomer Murders theme tunes prior to the show set the tone perfectly. The gentle and slightly knowing comedy is never allowed to dominate the production, but it’s also never far away.

The mystery at the heart of Murder on Cue’s second act is well-constructed, but the murderer is ultimately relatively guessable – although hopefully not from this review, which is spotlessly spoiler free. It’s around this point, however, that it becomes clear that the play is more about spending a wonderful evening with these delightful characters than it is about constructing a fiendishly ingenious mystery.

Murder on Cue is an enormously fun play, well aware of its roots, and not afraid to acknowledge them.

Andrew Lawston
April 2019

Photography by Paddy Gormley

From → Drama, Reviews

One Comment
  1. Julia Haythorn permalink

    Glad you enjoyed the show – thanks for the review!
    Rare Fortune Productions

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