The Business of Murder

Richard Harris
Middle Ground Theatre Company
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford

Robert Gwilym as Stone, Paul Opacic as Hallett and Joanna Higson as Dee

With only three in the cast, there must be one murderer, one victim and one policeman, but nothing is ever quite that simple, and trying to work out which character fits those descriptions is the way to total confusion.

The scene is set in a first floor flat in London in 1981. The action takes place from mid-afternoon until the evening of the same day, becoming more and more mysterious. The flat, small but pleasant enough, is the property of an unprepossessing middle aged man called Stone, a significant name as it turns out, and he seems to have something on his mind which pleases him.

As the play progresses, we discover he has invited two people to his flat separately. The first to arrive is policeman Hallett. It seems Stone is the local ‘grass’ and may have information that would be useful. The second visitor, who comes later, is a young, attractive journalist, obviously living on her nerves, downing the offered vodka and smoking non-stop.

What becomes ominously confusing is that Stone tells them two very different accounts of his present life and yet later makes sure they both meet, again in his flat.

To add to the mystery and tension, a large and heavy black trunk has been delivered, and why the strange assortment of objects he places in a black holdall?

The plot twists and turns so one is never sure who is victim or who the perpetrator. It seems eventually that they are all in the business of murder, one way or another.

Michael Lunney (who is also the designer) directs with a very sure hand, keeping everything right on track. Performances by all three (Paul Opacic, Robert Gwilym and Joanna Higson) are confident, assured and totally convincing.

There are touches to remind of the period—vinyl records (one of The Seekers) and gramophone, landline telephone, and a snippet of the music from Tales of the Unexpected played on the radio (or should I say wireless). Well unexpected it certainly is.

It’s a very clever plot but still possible to pick holes in it if you stopped and thought about it carefully. I would suggest though that you just suspend disbelief and enjoy it right to the surprising end. I did.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor