The 'play within a play' can be an effective dramatic device which as Michael Billington said of the original production of Noises Off is a "booby-trapped minefield of theatre itself in which one false move, one missed cue, can destroy a carefully created fiction." They're not always the easiest plays to follow and perhaps even more difficult for a company to execute convincingly. It is by complete coincidence that last night I saw Noises Off (review) and tonight the similarly set up Murder In Play. Whereas Noises Off's 'Nothing On' is a farce within a farce, what we have here is 'Murder At Priorswell Manor' - a murder mystery with a murder mystery that is a comedy thriller...
Similarities between the two are most evident in character and situation but where Murder In Play differs is in pace and tone. We have more time to take in what is happening without farcical slapstick madness sometimes obscuring the plot.
We begin in rehearsal, which is seemingly the norm at the play within play... Also similar is that it is the day before opening and exasperated director Boris Smolensky (David Callister) works his cast late into the night - long after Equity guidelines. Tensions soon begin to fray between cast and crew and it isn't long before murder is not only fictional.
Alison Mead, David Callister, Gemma Bissix,
Richard Tate and Dean Gaffney (Photo by Lester McKone)
Callister makes a humorous director, strutting around in high boots suggesting ridiculous changes to character - the impeccable Katy Manning as health food fanatic Christa D'Amato was at one point bent over a chicken with her arms in the air, squawking her lines at Tim (Dean Gaffney) who had been told to give his character a higher pitched voice. There is also plenty of humour from elements of farce such as cupboard doors that won't stay shut, forgetful actors and gun that doesn't bang. Line-forgetting actor Barrison Bracewell, played by Richard Tate is a comedy gem. Much like Noises Off's Selsdon, Tate's character is often having to check the script and later gives a hilarious turn as an inspector who one could mistake as Ronnie Corbett at the Ministry Of Silly Walks. Eastenders and Hollyoaks actress Gemma Bissix stars as Sophie Lawton, who as the mystery progresses becomes the Miss Marple and carries the audience through a series of events and a surprising twist ending.
Katy Manning (Photo by Lester McKone)
Alison Mead is strong as battle-axe Renee Savage as is Julia Main as Pat - the stage manager forced into acting. Poppy Meadows perhaps shows strongest contrast between her character Ginette and her character's character Virginia - helping to confirm the current stage situation.
The first of four plays in this year's summer season at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Murder In Play is a strong starter. It has every element of what makes a great play - humour, pace, a hugely talent cast and what is almost necessary today - a murder mystery! Playing until Saturday 29th June, book here. Book other plays in the season here.