Phoenix Theatre Group – Murder by the Book
Performed at Christchurch, Oct 8, 2011
Director – Chris Wright
With more twists and turns than a mountain road this five-handed murder mystery combined pace and intrigue in equal measure. Light comedy also emerged from the sharp-tongued dialogue between Selwyn and his wife Imogen in Act 1 and from John Douglas’s facial expressions, caught in the crossfire of the bittersweet verbal arrows from both Imogen and Selwyn. Andy Millward, as Selwyn, did very well to control the evolution of this tortuous plot while clearly demonstrating Selwyn’s intellectual narcissism. This was a tough role, jousting with Imogen on the one hand while remembering the business with drinks, pills, guns, keys, doors and daggers on the other. Occasionally the “fourth wall” was penetrated and perhaps Selwyn would have been better advised to keep head up and stare at the back of the hall rather than the audience during his more contemplative moments but with such a low-rise stage that is clearly difficult. There was also scope to vary the pace of dialogue at times, slowing down the self-indulgent soliloquies, milking the cleverness of the lines, being more expansive and then speeding up the barbed comments.
The variety in pace was very evident with Steve Holding’s Peter Fletcher, who was in many ways a similar character to Selwyn. This was a very confident performance, an appropriate self-satisfied smile never far from the lips of this armchair sleuth. His partnership with his friend, the secretary Christine (Jean Speller) worked well and the reason for the somewhat constrained dialogue between Christine and Selwyn in Act 1 became clear as her response to her suspicions unfolded. Syd Smith’s John Douglas was an unlikely accomplice to murder and his second act performance as the pawn in the game of murder, the rules of which were clearly beyond him, was very funny. Tricia Childs was strong as the scheming wife who was ultimately one step ahead of her husband although some of the sneering could perhaps have been traded for bored raising of eyebrows or a more langorous body language to show variety in her disgust for her husband while maintaining the persona of a woman who clearly collected men.
This was an enjoyable production with a strong cast that complemented the high quality of the set. I look forward to the next production.
Reviewer – Stewart Adkins