cast trio 

Jonny McClean as the Butler, Heather Westwell as Missy Maid and Feargus Woods Dunlop as Artridge. Pictures: Pamela Raith

Crimes Against Christmas

New Old Friends

Lichfield Garrick

*****

I MUST admit I am a sucker for silliness, a real silly sucker in fact (cue groans all around) which sort of sets a benchmark for a remarkably daft couple of hours from the cast of 14, or 15 if you count the German with no name.

Unfortunately, the budget only appeared to stretch as far as the employment of four actors, and as one of them could only manage a single part, it meant the rest had to play the other 13, or 14 Teutonically speaking, which meant a lot of running about and vanishing and appearing on a set which seemed to comprise mainly of doors.

The plot is simple, art expert Artridge, played in the style of a Sloane Ranger Philip Marlowe by Feargus Woods Dunlop, is employed by the mysterious dodgy German with no name (foreigners all being congenitally a bit dodgy of course) to prevent the theft of the famed Fabergé Bauble, so famous that few people know of its existence.

Mr Dunlop, incidentally, has morevicar, princess and duke names than anyone else, but less parts – just one in fact, but he does also act as a sort of Raymond Chandler style narrator, sharing his thoughts with us, presumably as no one else wanted them.

Artridge is employed to attend a Christmas party on the little known island of Richshtenshan, somewhere off the south coast, to find the thief among the staff, residents and guests.

Dan Winter as Father Vickers with the Russian Princess and the Duke

Thus, we have the butler, the Italian crime boss and lothario Don Crimine, grumpy old Duke Richshtenshan and rap’s answer to William McGonagall, a street poet, who lets you know it, once he’s seen, you’ll know what I mean (do get on with it!) . . . sorry about that, a chap called Turtle. Why Turtle? Well you’ll have to buy a ticket to find out.

A disparate bunch with just one thing in common – Jonny McClean. He’s not a character in the play, by the way, he’s the actor who plays them all, often in rapid succession.

Then there is Turtle’s girlfriend Michelle (think about it . . .) and the Duke’s rampant nymphomaniac daughter Lady McMickle, the maid Missy, who might not be strong on tact but give her a bit of stress and she can twist tongues with anyone, and the mysterious Russian princess with a liking for caviar, vodka, partying and with a name that gives us a constant running joke for the length of the show. No idea why, as one might say.

A bunch of ladies, except for the real lady, who is no lady, all played by Heather Westwell, who is married to Feargus. That’s not part of the script, they are really married when they are real people and they run New Old Friends.

Making up the rest of the motley crew is Lord McMickle, rough around the edges son-in-law of the Duke; experimental chef Betty, perhaps an A rather than an E in her name might be more appropriate, who manages to get by without uttering a word, American oil bore Jeff - with a J - Drummer and man of God, fire, brimstone and anything else handy, the priest who hates Christmas, Father Vicars, a collection who all have a hint of actor Dan Winter about them.

With Feargus just swanning around as Artridge, the pressure is on the rest and they must be grateful that their workload is reduced as time goes on by one of their number simplifying the script by killing off characters with festive ingenuity.

 Slowly a pattern emerges, which is a bit of a worry for Peter Artridge, particularly with the number of pear trees around, all leading to the final confrontation when we are down to just four people, which, if we are honest, is really what we started with in the first place.oil baron

The killer is finally revealed along with the various motives for the deadly deeds in a dramatic climax enlivened by a festive flurry of snow and cheery retribution – leaving the remaining cast of three to live happily ever after.

As plain old daft goes, this joint production between the Garrick and New Old Friends is up there with the best, it is funny, clever, slick, fast paced and when it comes to timing, the cornerstone of comedy, the cast are spot on.

American Oil baron Jeff - with a J - Drummer

Carl Davies’s set is simple three reversible door panels, a fireplace, and a door with a frosted glazed panel for an opening silhouette, private investigator’s office in a 1940’s movie effect. Then it starts to get complicated with door panels that can both swivel in the centre, or open on a side hinge, with characters going through or coming around as changes in personnel and panels are made at breakneck speed.

Timing here is crucial with entrances and exits, using the right doors, down to the split second and not a second seemed wasted nor a cue appeared to be missed.

Then there was the swivelling desk-come-boat, and the killer cow with five teats, and the vanishing decorations, all enhanced by clever sound effects and music from Paul Dodgson and lighting from Liz Porrett, including dramatic uplights as Artridge fills in details for us, all of which kept the techie in the box on his toes. All clever stuff, precisely executed. Daft done well is devilishly difficult to do, as Missy Maid might say, and this is done  to perfection.

New Old Friends bill it as Agatha Christie meets the 12 days of Christmas meets The 39 Steps and that pretty well sums it up.

With the Sleeping Beauty on the other side of the Studio wall – it’s behind you as one might say – this is a very funny alternative to panto. It is full of laughs, witty, clever lines, even with a few topical jokes thrown in. A laugh a minute rollercoaster of fun. Directed by Craig Saunders, Lichfield Garrick has pulled itself a real Christmas cracker. To 31-12-16.

Roger Clarke

09-12-16 

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