Anybody for Murder

Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner
Tabs Productions and Rumpus Theatre Company
Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield

Anna Mitcham (Suzy Stevens), John Goodrum (Max Harrington) and Karen Henson (Janet Harrington)
Susan Earnshaw (Mary Ticklewell), David Gilbrook (George Ticklewell), David Martin (Edgar Chambers) and John Goodrum (Max Harrington)
John Goodrum (Max Harrington), Susan Earnshaw (Mary Ticklewell), David Gilbrook (George Ticklewell), Karen Henson (Janet Harrington) and David Martin (Edgar Chambers)

Brian Clemens was primarily known as a screenwriter, his most memorable works being the ground-breaking television series The Avengers and The Professionals.

During his career, he teamed up with another prolific writer, Dennis Spooner, to pen stage plays. Often they had a comedic element, possibly as an antidote to all the murder and mayhem that characterised their TV thrillers.

Anybody for Murder falls into that category, so it’s a sound choice for the penultimate play in a seven-play repertory season celebrating 70 years of the Pomegranate Theatre. Humour in differing forms has been a regular feature of the season, presented by Rumpus Theatre Company and Tabs Productions, and here there are lighter moments in what would otherwise be quite a dark play.

Clemens and Spooner have come up with a play with a brilliant plot: on a remote peninsula of a tiny Greek island, Max Harrington is going to kill his wife Janet and cash in the insurance money. His lover Suzy Stevens will take her place appearance-wise as well as romantically and they’ll live happily ever after.

The plan takes a wicked twist when Mary and George Ticklewell unexpectedly turn up. A distant relative has died in South America. Without any close family, some of the money will go to second cousin Mary—but first cousin Janet will get more. The Ticklewells decide Mary—or is it Suzy?—must come to a slippery end.

For the first time in the season, husband-and-wife team John Goodrum and Karen Henson share directing duties as well as performing.

Goodrum gives an accomplished performance as Max, the cunning manipulator with murderous intentions. He injects warmth and amiability into the character so that you almost want him to get away with his unscrupulous plan.

Henson spends a lot of time in a bedroom after unwittingly taking a substance which knocks her unconscious. She is a “dweadfully” charming Janet who has trouble pronouncing her “r”s.

Susan Earnshaw who has been one of the major successes of this season shines as the domineering and disreputable Mary Ticklewell. She comes over with a despicableness that ensures you don’t want her to succeed in getting all the money.

There’s a neat depiction by David Gilbrook of lawyer George Ticklewell, the henpecked husband bamboozled into doing what his wife wants even though it goes against all his principles.

Anna Mitcham, who is appearing in all seven plays, shows another side to her versatility as the malleable Suzy, eager to get rid of Janet but anxious as to whether anything might go wrong.

David Martin completes the cast as Edgar Chambers, a thriller writer who lives near the Harringtons. Martin is convincing as a drunk whatever the time of day, his talk of murdering people metaphorically is taken literally by the Ticklewells and is the most humorous part of the evening.

After such a fascinating plot, it’s a bit disappointing that the play fades out at the end and you expect another twist.

But the acting, direction and set by Sarah Wynne Kordas are impressive. Few companies would even attempt to stage a seven-play season over eight weeks; Anybody for Murder confirms that Rumpus and Tabs have maintained a high standard throughout.

Reviewer: Steve Orme

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