Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A murder most . . . fun

Dead silence: Christine Gough, Helen Wood, Christian Jones, Catherine Sharkey, Vikki Reynolds and Harrison Bracewell – who has unfortunately been shot . . . with a carving knife in a not-very-good repertory production. A highly-charged moment from Murder in Play. 

Murder in Play

The Hampton Players

Fentham Hall



THE title offers a fair enough indication that there is a play within a play and that there is dirty work at the crossroads – but it does not say how much there is, or prepare  us for seeing people in the main play having to change roles in the subsidiary one to cope with the murderous drain on repertory resources.

There is also the memorable moment when the irascible director of the play – the play within the play, that is – addresses the missing Patricia, the hard-pressed stage manager, in the hope of discovering her whereabouts. “Where are you, you silly cow, Pat?” he shouts.

Not to put too fine a point on it, it's fun, even if at its heart is death by paraquat.

The writer is Simon Brett and here is a company that does not let him down. The line-up of players sitting briefly in three chairs with their backs to the audience at one point is somewhat disconcerting, but it appears to be dictated by the script, so we must not cavil.

And the only grumble about Christian Jones's beautifully-voiced Tim Fermor is that there comes a point where he is required to turn his delivery into a squeak – which is a surprise and a shame. Otherwise, he is the built-in expert on Equity regulations and he carries a fine-toned authority that matches the smart scarlet uniform jacket of his alter ego, Major Rodney Pirbright.


There's another voice that also tends to pin back your ears – that of David Wootten, as Boris Smolensky, director of the inner play. In his hands, Smolensky becomes a man of many decibels, one of nature's shouters. Moreover, he is apt to arrive at his rehearsals from the back of the hall and via the central gangway. He is reassuringly confident and when he is not pleased he does not take any prisoners – and he makes no secret of the fact that he is clearly not pleased most of the time.

Helen Wood has a lovely naturalness as Renée Savage, wife of the ever-smouldering Smolensky – as indeed does Rebecca Kear, who is Pat, the overwrought and long-suffering stage manager who has to take up acting when foul play depletes the cast of an enterprise that is living up to its description as a budget repertory production.

Charlie Barker is Harrison Bracewell, the Scotch-swigging actor who never tires of tiring his colleagues with his name-dropping stories of his bygone work with the stars of his profession. This is an agreeable portrayal, but the script makes intermittent references to his being “old.” I'll say no more, but you could have fooled me.

Christine Gough, as Christa d'Amato, brings amusing moments as Sophie, otherwise known as Mrs Puttock, who is the maid in the inner play.

And Vikki Reynolds – playing Ginette, who in turn plays Lady Virginia Cholmondley – is another natural delight in her unstinting admiration of Christian Jones (as Tim Fermor, who plays the Major): “Oh, Wodney, you're so bwave. . .”).

Catherine Sharkey (Sophie) overdoes the anguish a little at one point but comes rib-ticklingly to the moment when she is required to remark that it's not easy, going mad in a tee-shirt and cycling shorts.

Maureen George's production grabs its opportunities and shakes them to within frothing point. It's a fun night out.

To 19.11.11.

John Slim  

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