Hard to detect the real Morse

House of Ghosts

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

***

THIS is a bit of a ping pong production, as if a thespian minded group of air traffic controllers had decided to put on a play about Inspector Morse. There may be a cast of 15 but very few are allowed to land on stage at any one time the rest have to circle in the wings diving in when an empty slot in the spotlight becomes available.

The play is set around a production of Hamlet in Oxford and is broken up into dozens of short scenes - one consists of just two sentences and a mere 15 words - and as the characters in one scene walk off the next group are walking on - we even have  the same character walking off from one scene, turning round and without drawing breath  and still talking walking back into the next  in some different part of town.

It is all made more confusing by the the same set standing in as church, stage, stage door, flat, office or whatever depending upon which minimal props are on or off while lighting tells us where the next group will appear. Some props are still rocking from being carried on when they are carried off again seconds later. 

The stage adaptation is by Alma Cullen who was responsible for four Morse TV episodes in between 1989 and 1991 and the short, one shot scenes might work on TV but in the theatre it makes the whole thing very bitty and it becomes hard to follow exactly what is going on and even harder to actually care.

The basic plot is the woman playing Ophelia (Rachel Logan) gets an early bath as she dies clutching her stomach before the audience have even managed to get stuck into their  bags of sweets and boxes of Maltesers.

The could be the end of the evening but luckily, or perhaps not, there is a copper in the house as DCI Morse bounds up from the stalls to take charge.

RELIABLE SIDEKICK

Former Dr Who Colin Baker makes a decent fist of Morse but there is not enough in the script to either endear him to the audience or to antagonise them while his reliable sidekick Sgt Lewis (Andrew Bone) is more of a impression than a character. Perhaps the problem liea in the fact we know both too well and these are not they.

Meanwhile back to the plot(s); it transpires that Morse was in the same  play, Hamlet, on the same stage in Oxford, directed by the same dastardly Lawrence Baxter (David Acton),; 25 years ago and the pair had clashed then with Morse apparently stitched up good and proper by our easy to spot suspect/baddy director so we have a bit of afters supposedly to spice up a rather cold dish.

Throw in a jealous Mrs Baxter (Caroline Harding) , a strange Irish woman (Judith Rae) screaming during Hamlet, a barmier than usual Prince of Denmark, (Gregory Finnegan) and a couple of homosexual relationships for reasons unknown except to imply treading the boards and treading lightly have always gone hand in hand, so to speak, and there are enough story lines to keep the average soap going for a decade.

We also have the soon to be bishop, Mons. Paul Kincaid (Paul Clarkson) who was Hamlet as a student 25 years ago but left certain fame and fortune to join the priesthood. Chuck in another murder, the fruits of past  and present rumpy pumpy,  transgressions and affairs of the heart from long ago and you would think there would be enough to be going on with.

The problem with tying up so many loose ends though is that you just end up with tangle. The only saving grace is that it was a lot better than the Hamlet we were facing if Orphelia had manage to struggle on.

To be fair the cast did a good job with the tools available but they were always going to be handicapped by the script and its fragmented, bitty formulae and clunky direction. To 6-11-10.

Roger Clarke

Detecting a Time Lord on the case

***

FORMER Dr Who Colin Baker appears to be in conflict with the universe while playing Detective Inspector Morse in this special stage version written by Alma Cullen.

His booming voice dominates the action of the whodunit which is a play within a play which has two bodies and a string of suspects during a production of Hamlet in an Oxford theatre.

Baker comes over as an actor pretending to be a policeman, with a crystal clear delivery that ensures the audience hear every word. Not the lot of the average copper, you might think.

It's not a ghost story, though incidents from the past tend to haunt some of the characters who happened to have been together at university more than 20 years earlier.

When young actress Rebecca Downey (Rachel Logan) collapses and dies on stage while playing Ophelia, Morse - in the audience, coincidentally - considers the possibility of murder, with the director Lawrence Baxter, a man he couldn't stand in their college days, a chief suspect.   

David Acton is convincing as sexual predator Baxter, and Gay Soper has her moments as veteran actress Verity Carr in a play which has a strong finish after the early stages have some people in the audience yearning for the appearance of a couple of Daleks.

Produced by Ed O'Driscoll, House of Ghosts runs to Saturday night 6.11.10

Paul Marston 

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