Mary Elliott Nelson
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
The Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season has reached a milestone: this is the 25th year that Nottingham's Theatre Royal has hosted a summer of plays performed by an old-style rep company.
The fact that the season is still being held speaks volumes for its popularity in an age when profits are more important than tradition.
The season has changed over the years: the acting has become more polished and there's now a wider choice of plays so that diehard audiences aren't subjected to the same kind of play year after year.
This season's opener is a typical example: Mary Elliott Nelson's play gets its first professional staging.
Murder Live! is set in a house on a small, isolated island off the Cornish coast. Seven people are brought together to appear on a new reality TV programme. They all have one thing in common: they're desperate to appear on television. They can't get off the island and all their means of communication are taken away from them.
Problems mount when they discover a non-existent production company got them together by giving them contrasting information about the programme: one woman thinks she’s going to be on a singing competition, another believes she’s on a cookery show, a third is under the impression property is the subject matter.
The "contestants" die off one by one as it's revealed they've broken the commandments of the house.
On press night, Murder Live! had a false start because of a technical hitch. A lighting board crashed and the show started 13 minutes late.
As the action unfolds, it becomes apparent that Murder Live! is similar to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. Mary Elliott Nelson, who also directs, takes her ending from Christie, with one of the murdered "victims" not being dead after all and getting up to unmask the villain.
While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, Murder Live! is a second-rate take-off of the Queen of Crime. The plot is not as clever and none of the characters in Murder Live! is as endearing as Christie's creations.
However, Jeremy Lloyd Thomas gives a solid performance as Greg Perryman, the ex-soldier who tries to remain calm while others are panicking or fearing for their life.
Karen Henson, who appeared in the first thriller season, produces a commendable portrayal of Caitlin Daly, a common northerner who dresses in short skirts and high heels that should be worn by someone much younger.
Chris Sheridan, back for the third successive year, shows his versatility as Marty Stone, a streetwise youngster who likes a joke and embraces reality TV as though he were born for it.
Although the acting is strong, the script could have been more challenging and incisive.
Some of the deaths in the second act give the impression that the rehearsal period was quite short—one of the housemates dies after seemingly being stabbed in the buttock.
While it's good to have a new play as part of the thriller season, I found Murder Live! to be a disappointing start to the month.
Traditionalists should find something to their liking over the next three weeks when Francis Durbridge's The Gentle Hook, Murder Mistaken by Janet Green and Anthony Shaffer's Murderer are the plays on offer.
Reviewer: Steve Orme