The final instalment in the Ian Dickens summer play season at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre is another classic example of traditional rep. A Murder Has Been Arranged was performed first in 1930 at the Strand Theatre (now the Novello) in London.
The play takes place on the stage of London's St. James' Theatre (to be clear, this isn't a play within a play like so many that are doing the rounds) and the current set is used as the venue for Sir Charles Jasper's 40th birthday party (changed to 50th in this production, presumably much closer to the real age of the actor). Sir Charles is due to inherit £2m at 11 o'clock that evening which otherwise would have be given to his only living relative Maurice Mullins. Who should turn up that evening is perhaps not too difficult to guess and given the title of the play Sir Charles' murder has most definitely been arranged.
Anita Harris (The Cemetery Club) and Nicola Weeks (Haunted/The Final Test) are idyllic English ladies and are joined by Karen Ford (The Final Test) who is loveable as Mrs Wragg - the fearful maid. When dialogue gets perhaps a little heavy the play is completely shaken up by the estranged family member himself Maurice Mullins - ridiculously pompous and played most humorously by Coronation Street's Dr Carter - Oliver Mellor. It is Mellor who keeps the audience engagement through the plots twists and turns. Poppy Meadows does a spiffing job as the no nonsense Miss Groze. Mike Duran plays conductor Cavendish and Paul Lavers is the ill-fated Sir Charles Jasper. In an unusual instance the climax to this play is less of a whodunnit and more of a letsprovewhodunnit.
It is only in the climax of the play where its age is all too apparent. Long-winded prophecy's playing out, death and supernatural occurrences are received with titters and are at times cringeworthy - no fault of the cast but situations within the play are a little strange, less effective and hard to be believed. If you're a fan of eerie wind sound effects though you won't be disappointed here.
The plot moves along quickly enough and there is always a twist and turn to keep you interested. This is a nostalgic look back at when thrill depended on the less visual approach. Incredibly well acted by an experienced and charming cast.
A Murder Has Been Arranged runs at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 20th July. Book tickets here.