There has always been a crossover between the movies and theatre. Hollywood and Broadway have proved time and again that they can co-exist and learn from each other. Take ‘Hairspray’. This started off as a film, then was redone for musical theatre and then redone again for a movie. So celluloid and grease-paint can co-exist peacefully. There is an example of this at the Drayton Arms Theatre where Fatale Femmes presents America’s No 1 Detective Agency.
In downtown LA, private investigator Vivian O’Connell (Fleur de Wit) is worried about her business. Along with sidekick Joey Vincent (Siobhan Cha Cha), Vivian is waiting for a big case to walk through the door so that she re-establish herself and take over from Bobby Munroe (Hamish Adams-Cairns) as the No 1 PI in America. Unfortunately, the only case that comes their way is brought in by wannabe Hollywood starlet Betty Channing (Alex Hinson). Betty has a problem with obscene photographs and, although she knows it is really beneath her, Vivian agrees to take the case. Vivian heads to the seediest bar in town to investigate the pictures with the help of her friend/snitch Edward “Teddy” Worthington (Iain Gibbons) and mob boss Larry Siegeli (Oliver-David Harrison). As the investigation proceeds, Vivian finds out that things are not as plain as they appear and who someone is not necessarily who they are.
Presented in a sort of film noir pastiche, America’s No 1 Detective Agency is an unusual piece of theatre. Writer Liv Hunterson has managed to cram an awful lot into a seventy-five-minute show. In fact, at times, I felt there was so much going on I was in danger of missing parts of the – even for film noir – rather convoluted story. Having said that, there were certainly elements of the script which tickled my funny bone – for example the stuck door, and the initial belligerence of Joey to Betty when she first arrived in the office.
Natalie Jackson’s set was very film noir with pieces of furniture being moved or wheeled around to create new locales – though I do wish someone had got an oil can to the castors of the desk. James Stokes lighting worked nicely with the story and I really liked the idea of having live background music (Danny Wallington and Justin Tambini) with the gorgeous singing voice of Isabella Bassett.
With all these elements, Director Anna Marshall has a lot to do to ensure everything runs smoothly and, this she accomplishes pretty well. My one point would be that as everyone is on stage virtually the whole time there needs to be some thought about what the actors are doing when not taking part in the main action, once or twice there were movements at the back of the stage which caught my attention and distracted me.
Turning to the actors, and they were all good in their roles, but full credit to the ladies for their performances. In most shows like this, the lead would be a man so it was nice to see PI Vivian O’Connell as the main character. Fleur De Wit played the part well, maintaining her femininity whilst still using the clipped voice so beloved of guys like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe – a very nice crossover there.
Overall then, America’s No 1 Detective Agency is a difficult show for me to sum up. I’m not particularly a fan of film noir as a movie style and also maybe this just isn’t my sort of play. As stated above, I did feel that there was at times too much going on and, unusually for me, I would recommend adding another few minutes to the run-time just to give everyone a chance to catch-up. And while the story may have been convoluted, the production itself was pretty good. Not necessarily my cup of tea but if you like the style, it should be right up your alley.
Review by Terry Eastham
A Noir Comedy inspired by classics such as Mildred Pierce and The Third Man. Fatale Femme present their debut play written by Liv Hunterson and directed by Anna Marshall at the Drayton Arms.
America’s No.1 Detective Agency uses fast paced physical theatre inspired by noir films and the comedies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin to tell the story of Vivian O’Connell; who was the best detective in Los Angeles. That was until the Wallace case exploded and Bobby Munroe took her title, and all the good cases with it.
In a town where everyone has a part to play, just how far will Vivian have to go to reconcile her title and prove herself as the number one detective in America. When a distressed starlet comes asking for help, Vivian has no choice but to take a case that’s beneath her (in more ways than one) in this hilarious noir romp.
Fleur de Wit appearing as Vivian O’Connell
Siobhan Cha Cha appearing as Joey Vincent
Alex Hinson appearing as Betty Channing
Hamish Adams-Cairns appearing as Bobby Munroe
Iain Gibbons appearing as Edward “Teddy” Worthington
Oliver-David Harrison appearing as Larry Siegeli
Creatives: Director: Anna Marshall, Assistant Director: Isabella Bassett, Writer: Liv Hunterson,
Designer: Natalie Jackson, Lighting Designer: Katrin Padel, Press: Heather Ralph, Produced by Fatale
Venue details: Drayton Arms Pub & Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5 0LJ
Dates and Times: 8pm, 30th July – 7th Aug.