cast of rehearsal for murder 

Ben Nealon (Leo), Susan Penhaligan (Bella), Lucy Dixon (Karen), Steven Pinder (Lloyd), Robert Duncan (David), Robert Daws (Alex) and Amy Robbins (Monica)

Rehearsal for Murder

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

SUICIDE or murder? One suspect who takes the secret with them, or a whole after show party of theatricals, all suspects and all with apparent axes to grind.

That is the dilemma facing playwright Alex Dennison when his leading lady and fiancée Monica Welles plunges from the balcony of her apartment to the pavement 10 floors below.

Did she jump or was she . . . helped on her way? Police and the coroner said suicide but Dennison disagrees and sets out to prove them wrong.

Rehearsal for Murder is based on a 1982 made for TV movie by US scriptwriting royalty Richard Levinson and William Link (Columbo, Murder she Wrote, Ellery Queen etc) adapted for the stage, with the location switched from Broadway to the West End, by David Rogers.

The story appears simple enough. Big movie star Monica is making her West End debut in Dennison’s latest comedy and the eagerly awaited reviews come in during the the first night party in Monica’s apartment. It looks like the play is a turkey which means guests vanish like snowflakes in summer.

Even so Dennison played convincingly by Robert Daws, cannot believe Monica, played in big star style by his real life wife Amy Robbins, could have killed herself over something so trivial as bad reviews – after all the couple were getting married the following day.

Fast forward a year to the day and Dennison has gathered cast and crew together in the same West End theatre to read scenes from his new play.

So we have leading man David, played with conceited charm by Robet DawsRobert Duncan, young actress Karen played as a rising star, in her eyes at least, by Lucy Dixon along with juvenile lead Leo, played as a still struggling actor by Ben Nealon.

Then we have director Lloyd, who turns out to be rather lovelorn and angst ridden, played by Steven Pinder and producer Bella, who displays the hard-nosed attitude of the monied played by Susan Penhaligon.

Writer's Glock? Playwright Alex Dennison (Robert Daws) uses a little extra persuasion to motivate the cast

Then there is Ernie, theatre handyman and stagehand, Martin Carroll, police in the shape of Mark Carter along with Dennison’s ready to please new assistant Sally, Holly Ellis and a second policeman played by Gwynfor Jones, all peripheral figures in Dennison’s elaborate plan.

Dennison’s new play is about a play which gives us a play about a play about a play – please try to keep up at the back - and as Dennison makes each of the main characters read their parts motives for murder multiply like rabbits in spring.

We have rejected advances, betrayed love, naked ambition and that old crime favourite, an insurance job and that is just for starters as the reading starts to turn nasty as Dennison declares the killer is someone in the theatre.

Dennison is playing the role of Monica in each of the scenes but cleverly it is actually Monica playing herself which adds both tension and realism to the series of revelations as we are left to decide who had most to gain, most to lose or simply most desire for revenge.

That would have been too simple though, murder mysteries need just that, mystery, so Levinson and Link take you to the brink then as the murderer is about to be revealed add a twist, revealing a door that had been hinted at but never opened for a dramatic ending.

Plays about plays set in theatres can be seen as self-indulgent but they can also work well, after all it is the world we go to see every time we take our seats and wait for the curtain to rise, so it is something we are all familiar with and here in Bill Kenwright’s new venture. The Classic Thriller Theatre Company, it works very well indeed.

The twist is well disguised but with enough clues to make it plausible and not a complete surprise, and then tension is built up nicely by director Roy Marsden and a good cast on a single, authentic looking set from Julie Godfrey.

A word too for the technical crew who had to deal with Dan Samson’s sound design and Douglas Kuhrt’s lighting. Plays often have two lighting cues for each act. Fade up at the start, fade down at the end. Here there are plenty of cues for both the incidental music and the ever changing lighting for Dennison’s extracts, or to highlight scenes or pick out characters. Probably no one noticed music or lights or gave it a second thought – which means they did their job well.

Rehearal for Murder is a clever mystery which will keep you intrigued and guessing until the end. To 09-04-16.

Roger Clarke

05-04-16

And in the next scene . . .

***

AT times it’s a little difficult for the audience to keep pace with the twists and turns in this murder mystery, written by Richard Levinson and William Link.

It is set in a West End theatre with playwright Alex Dennison staging a reading of his new play, exactly a year after his actress fiancee died from apparent balcony fall suicide following an opening night panned by the critics.

He is convinced she was murdered despite the police being satisfied there was no foul play, and the group of actors become increasingly uneasy as he launches his own investigation into glamorous Monica Welles’ death . . . while the occasional appearance of her ‘ghost’ to aid flashbacks can confuse.

Robert Daws (The Royal, Poldark and Outside Edge) does, however, give a truly powerful performance as the determined Dennison and the more revealing second act contains several highly dramatic moments in the hunt for the truth.

Daws’ real-life wife, Amy Robbins, plays the tragic Monica and the eleven-strong cast from the Classic Thriller Theatre Company all pull their weight in helping to keep the customers guessing.

Bill Kenwright’s latest presentation, directed by Roy Marsden, runs to 09.04.16

Paul Marston 

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