Marie Lloyd and the Music Hall Murder
Tabs Productions and Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall
National Justice Museum
When Nottingham’s Theatre Royal announced it couldn’t host the Classic Thriller Season in 2017, Tabs Productions had to find alternative venues. The company decided that as well as Nottingham Playhouse it would use the National Justice Museum in the city as a one-off.
Karen Henson set about writing something appropriate for the former courthouse. There’s been so much interest in her new play Marie Lloyd and the Music Hall Murder that matinées have had to be organised and there will now be nine performances in the 185-seat space.
Marie Lloyd and the Music Hall Murder is a departure for Tabs which normally goes for—as you might expect—classic thrillers. It’s completely different from the first two plays in 2017, Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder and Dangerous Corner by J B Priestley.
Henson has taken ingredients from a murder mystery, pantomime and the BBC Television show The Good Old Days, thrown them up in the air and they’ve come down in a fairly impressive package.
It’s a short show at 85 minutes, long enough to unravel the mystery of whom the murderer is but thankfully not too drawn-out on the bottom-numbing courtroom seats.
Marie Lloyd and the Music Hall Murder features the eponymous queen of comedy who is being tried for murdering a magician, the Great Merconi, at the Empire Palace of Varieties in Nottingham. He is found in his dressing room, apparently strangled by Marie’s garter.
The play is strange is some ways: there’s a barrister who defends Marie but no one to prosecute and Marie Lloyd doesn’t get the funniest lines despite being billed as the queen of comedy.
But there are some excellent performances before members of the jury—some of the audience who find themselves in the jury box as there is unreserved seating—decide on Marie’s guilt.
Susan Earnshaw gets the audience on her side as she maintains she couldn’t have committed the murder, as does Sarah Kordas as Claudia Dawn the wardrobe mistress who wouldn’t resort to killing the magician even though he had a way of making people feel small.
Jeremy Lloyd Thomas is excellent as Charlie Welkin, the stage doorman whose grunts and monosyllabic answers cover up the fact that his memory is dreadful.
Anna Mitcham is endearing as Lilly Lovage, the luscious legomaniac—nothing to do with building blocks—and David Osmond is an accomplished pianist as well as the officious clerk of the court.
On the first night, David Gilbrook as barrister Mr Blowers struggled occasionally with his huge role but managed creatively to get himself out of a mess when he forgot his lines. His summing-up of the case towards the end was commendable.
There is the potential for Marie Lloyd and the Music Hall Murder to descend into melodrama but Henson’s deft directing and a couple of astute performances prevent that from happening.
John Lyons as the judge with an eye for the ladies never lets the character descend into a stereotypical parody.
Andrew Ryan is similarly restrained as the dastardly Great Merconi while he gets most of the laughs as lady of mystery Miss Sachet Aweigh. His innuendos and double entendres liven the proceedings without becoming too theatrical.
With a singalong at the end, Marie Lloyd and the Music Hall Murder is a light, intriguing piece for a summer’s evening which appeals to the usual Classic Thriller Season audience. It’s a bit rusty in places but has enough performances to become much tighter by the end of its run.
Reviewer: Steve Orme