By Meredith Jones Russell
It was Andrew Green, in the Garden, with a Plant. No need for spoiler alerts, though. This was just the ending on the night I saw Murder She Didn’t Write, an improvised whodunnit comedy.
Expertly compered by Detective Lieutenant Lou Tennant, the show invites the audience to become the seventh member of the cast by deciding on key elements of the play themselves, such as its setting and title. One member of the audience, picked at random, stands in for the role of Tennant’s sidekick, Jenkins, and chooses the murder victim and murderer.
Beyond these elements, however, the cast, each dressed and named, Cluedo-style, as a different colour, have free rein to take the show in any direction they wish. And they certainly do. It’s comedy mayhem, as each cast member vies to be the funniest, most random, and inject the most chaos into proceedings.
For the most part, they manage it. The show is very funny and very, very mad. Each actor gets lots of opportunities to showcase their quick wit and physical comedy chops, which they all have in spades. The live piano accompaniment adds unpredictable fun to the whole affair.
Cleverly, a structure of sorts, which probably dictates every version of the show, helps them anchor this. For all the later laughs, the show still makes for slow going at first, as pairs of characters perform short scenes together and struggle to create much comedy without any consistent set-up, tension or rapport.
However, once Tennant provides them with Jenkins’ nomination for victim, the scenes become a vehicle to provide motives for each character, and the actors get more to go on. After the first half closes on the discovery of the body, the short scenes of the second half also become more focused when Tennant informs the cast of the identity of the murderer, allowing them to lead the action more clearly, and ultimately more amusingly, towards a conclusion, via some wisely inserted flashbacks.
These light structural elements help propel a show which could otherwise lose focus. It also helps a cast who are at their best when ad libbing as more defined characters, not flailing to make jokes over each other without any established motivation. As a result, the play gets funnier and funnier, and by the end you’ll be disappointed it’s over. Luckily, though, you can always go again, and watch something completely different!
Murder She Didn’t Write runs monthly.
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