Review of “Murdered to Death”
reprinted from Dorchester News February 2006
Was this another ‘goodie’ from the bottomless DADS bucket? For this reviewer at least it earned only 5/10 for content, but a mighty eight verging on nine for performance. A veritable silk purse from a sow’s ear indeed.
What is it about Dorchester and murder? As though regular appearances in ‘Midsomer Murders’ wasn’t enough, we then had that marvellous detecting afternoon as part of September’s Dorchester Festival. Now, in the first week of December, we were invited to watch a spoof Agatha Christie thriller, written by Peter Gordon and presented by DADS.
Surely, the last scene would be in the drawing room, with all characters present? Well, bearing in mind that absolutely everything occurred in the drawing room, we were not to be denied. To my delight, the denouement also involved the doddering butler (Michael Herbert in his element). Life was as it should be, and everyone was in their proper place! That is part of the charm of this kind of show. There is a ritual structure, and almost, it seems, a ritual cast. This only amplifies the pleasure, however, for one is still no closer to second-guessing the guilty party, judging by the audience’s half-time chatter.
I hesitate to describe this as a melodrama, for it is short on drama and long on cheap laughs, but what better way to get things going, and to ensure that the audience’s mindset is as we would wish it? The characters in ‘Murdered to Death’ are almost all stereotypes, and were played to the hilt in stereotypical fashion by a DADS cast well suited to this kind of delivered comedy.
The single addition to the expected cast of characters was the fool of a detective (Acting Inspector Pratt – no relation to anyone we know) whose gross incompetence was put across unerringly by Mark Williams, in a performance which happily bore little resemblance to his Herr Flick, in ‘Allo Allo’, only a year ago.
If there was only one end to a stick, Inspector Pratt would still grab the wrong end. Where he’d have been without the earthy wisdom of the maligned local constable Thomkins (aka Thomson) quietly and charmingly well played by John Fitzgerald, I really don’t know. The byplay between these two was central both to the plot and to the pace of the show.
The hostess for the weekend, Mildred (Shirley Collen, somehow without her usual effervescence) was knocked off at an early stage in proceedings, shortly after we had discovered her 30-year affair with the Colonel (a wonderful Blimp type delightfully over-played by Terry Chipperfield).
Only right at the end do we discover that the Colonel’s good lady Margaret (Elaine Healey) has for years been dallying below stairs with Bunting the Butler, and that she is stronger than just being a good sort who helps out at village fetes. In fact, she is the killer, and a greedy one to boot, looking to divorce the Colonel now that he has inherited the Great House in which they are staying (Mildred and Dorothy having been bumped off, or orf, as the Colonel would say).
Creating mayhem with the plot, and creating little sub-plots of their own, we find a couple who are not what they seem – a dodgy French art-dealer who isn’t French at all (Mark Johnson) and his companion in crime, the apparent toff Elizabeth Hartley-Trumpington (Jane Cannon) who turns out to be nothing more than Jane’s now tour de force common tart. One of their hosts is Mildred’s niece/companion, Dorothy, played by Rosemary Mills as a breath of fresh air, whose nastier side only becomes visible late on, shortly before her own untimely demise.
Into this charming little house party steps Miss Maple (Sue Kitson). Knowing Sue’s mastery of ‘little old lady with character’ roles I was hugging myself with anticipation, but she was sadly given little opportunity by the script. It seemed that Peter Gordon, the author, couldn’t quite decide between the strength and verbal dominance of Margaret Rutherford and the frail, laid-back insights of Joan Hickson. Ah well. There was nothing Sue could do about it!
Prompter David Gifford earned his glass of wine, to the enjoyment of all present, and the set-building and design team (David Joseph and Allan Smith) produced a nice simple set that worked really well, thanks at least in part to well-chosen properties (Elaine Healey) and the painting of Adrian Brooks & Co, augmented by a Hallidays’ fireplace. The lighting (Simon Ratliff) worked well as usual, and didn’t intrude, and that must be as much of a compliment as lighting ever gets in a whodunnit!
Murdered to Death is a romp, nothing less, nothing more. Director Geoff Russell (forever Rene) did well to maintain pace and interest, armed with a script that got laughs but which didn’t always aid momentum.
An enjoyable evening, just the thing before Christmas, but perhaps a little light on the leetle grey cells for this reviewer. ‘Murdered to Death’ amply demonstrated that there isn’t a show that DADS cannot get their teeth into, and handle well. I look forward to a different style next time around, however, for DADS are capable of so much more.