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Cast (clockwise from top left): Melissa Clements, Megan Terry, Polly Smith, Liz Garland, David Janson, Michelle Morris, Jeffrey Holland, Judy Buxton and David Callister

Secondary Cause of Death

Malvern Theatres

****

THIS play must match Hamlet for the percentage of the cast members who bite the dust!

One after another most of the characters are ‘mortified’, to use Inspector Pratt’s term for their fatal departure, by the end of the piece!

Like an unsuccessful Poirot, Pratt makes superficial attempts to identify the cause of each demise, but he proves invariably unsuccessful and completely deluded in successive cases. For instance he concludes that the fact that Henrietta collapses with a huge pair of scissors deeply embedded in her back can only be the ‘secondary cause of death’! Hence the title!

The odd collection of individuals who congregate at Bagshott Manor shortly before the outbreak of World War II seem to have tenuous links with each other in most cases, but the plan of the hosts is to hold a Murder Mystery Party game that evening and everyone is urged to join in.

However everything goes awry with the first murder, and it begins to emerge that the cook (Liz Garland) is in fact a secret agent planted by Her Majesty’s Government to observe the Polish Count Puchlik (David Janson), played by who is in fact a Nazi plant, plotting assassinations and planning to cause mayhem.

This spoof on the Agatha Christie genre of detective novel is energetically produced by Talking Scarlet the production company which brought Ayckbourn’s Round and Round the Garden to Malvern a few weeks ago.

This production was polished and energetic but some of the humour was a little predictable. A number of rather hackneyed stage jokes were served up. However that is part of the nature of ‘spoof’: it aims to make a joke of the cliché.

David Callister played Inspector Pratt in a very lively way and some of the funniest elements in the show came from his verbal confusions and contortions: he repeatedly substitutes incorrect words: ‘inseminations’ for ‘investigations’, ‘psychosomatic’ for ‘psychopathic’, ‘butter wouldn’t melt in his ears’ are a few of the many that stick in the mind!

All the cast are skilled and slick, hamming up their performances and projection to match the nature of ‘spoof’. Jeffery Holland, as both Colonel Craddock and Cardew Longfellow, achieved a wonderful death behind the sofa as one, then a prompt reappearance through the upstage doorway as the other, to amaze and puzzle us all.

However Act One seemed a bit tired, whereas Act Two developed more pace and humour than the first. The single set required was elegantly designed, the technicalities smooth and effective. Overall the audience were appreciative without being ecstatic. To 12-03-16

Tim Crow

08-03-16 

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