One way of staging a killing

Arranging a murder: Karen Ford as Mrs Wragg, Oliver Mellor  as Maurice Mullens and Anita Harris as Mrs Arthur

A murder has been arranged

Wolverhampton Grand

***

THE final play in Ian Dickens’ quartet in the summer season never seemed to make up its mind if it was a murder mystery, a thriller or a ghost story.

It rather failed on the first in that we knew who the killer was and never got going on the second as there was no real fear or suspense.

As for the ghost story . . . the ghost was some poor lass on the way to a meeting who was unwittingly dragged into the affair for forces beyond the comprehension of mere mortals to fulfil the terms of an ancient prophesy about what happened if you happened to have a murder in the St James’s Theatre in London.

Rather unkindly the author has the innocent young lady’s life snuffed out which seemed a somewhat unfair reward for her doing her bit for for prophesy.

The play is billed as a “terrifying edge of your seat thriller, set in London in the 1930s ”which is pushing it a bit.

The story is simple, Sir Charles Jasper is due to inherit £2 million - not to be sneezed at now and a King’s ransom in 1938.

There is a snag though, he has to survive until 11pm on the evening of his 40th birthday or the money goes to his distant relative Maurice Austin Mullins.

Sir Charles, who has written a book about the ghostly goings on at the theatre and what ghostly things will happen in the event of another murder in the theatre – sort of occult health and safety guidelines.

So when there is a murder, on stage, a week before his birthday Sir Charles, played with suitable authority by Paul Lavers,  arranges his birthday party in the deserted theatre with his wife, Beatrice, played with a touching innocence by Nicola Weeks and star of the show Anita Harris as the rather socially superior, upper class mother in law Mrs Arthur.

Mrs Arthur arranged the marriage of her daughter to Sir Charles’ money and protects both like a hawk.

Then there is Miss Groze, the humorless secretary, played by Poppy Meadows, who is not all she seems and the delightful Mrs Wragg the cook, maid, and general dogs body wonderfully played by Karen Ford.

BRIGHT AND BREEZY

Into this unhappy band, who are waiting for the predicted terror arrives Mark Martin as Jimmy North, who just pops in to protect Lady Jasper after meeting her at a cocktail party that week – a likely story or what? And out of the blue old Maurice Mullins, a bright and breezy psychopath played by ex-Coronation Street star Oliver Mellor.

Now we know if Sir Charles pops his hand-made clogs before 11pm then Maurice will inherit £2 million so it doesn’t take a PhD in astro-physics to work out the way this particular plot is drifting . . . and you would be right.

Popping in now and again is bandleader Cavandish (Mike Duran) who is tasked with playing in the background while Melissa Thomas is the poor young woman dragged in by the forces of the dark side to be sacrificed to page 120 or whatever of the prophesy in Sir Charles’ book.

A clue to why she was chosen could be that her grandfather’s mother was apparently burned as a witch on Hereford – and as the last witch was executed in England in 1685, and that was a hanging, longevity certainly seemed to run in the family.

The production is well acted, Mrs Wragg and Maurice in particular, has good scenery and costumes but takes an extraordinary time to set the scene then drifts in the doldrums for a while waiting for the clock to tick towards 11 o’clock and the fateful hour when the unexplained and unnatural will take over.

The play has its moments, and some clever twists, such as how to get someone to unwittingly write a suicide note, but the tension and fear factor were never enough to persuade hairs to stand up even a little bit on the backs of necks. To 20-07-13.

Roger Clarke

 

Meanwhile going bump in the night . . .

***

I'M still not sure whether this intriguing Emlyn Williams play is a whodunit or did anybody do it...or if it's really a ghost story.

The audience think they have witnessed a murder and believe they know the culprit, but the plot thickens and you wonder if the victim is really dead.

So this last drama in the Ian Dickens summer play season at the Grand holds the attention right to the final curtain, puzzling as the story certainly is.

The action takes place on the stage of the reputedly haunted Victorian St James Theatre in London, hired by the eccentric Sir Charles Jasper for his 40th birthday party because he delves into the occult, and several mystery deaths have occurred there in the past.

Paul Lavers plays Sir Jasper who, believe it or not, will inherit £2 million if he survives till 11pm that evening, but along comes his flamboyant nephew Maurice Mullins (Oliver Mellor, Corrie's Dr Matt Carter) who stands to land the jackpot if uncle bites the dust.

Fine performances from Nicola Weeks as Sir Jasper's wife, Beatrice, and Grange Hill's Karen Ford (Mrs Wragg, the maid), while Anita Harris is still able to add a touch of glamour as Sir Jasper's mother-in-law, Mrs Arthur.

A stunning set and excellent costumes add to the enjoyment, but the pre-show blurb about this being an edge-of-the-seat thriller seems a touch over the top. To 20-07-13.

Paul Marston 

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