The oldest known example of a detective story was ‘The Three Apples’, one of the tales narrated by Scheherazade in the One Thousand and One Nights. Detective stories have appeared in every century throughout the world and the public have lapped them up. I can boast – if that is the correct word and doesn’t make me look sad – of having read every Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes story (both long and short) at least once – and that includes ones written by other authors such as ‘Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula’ by Loren D. Estleman. Another person who obviously loves detective stories is comedy writer Olly Allsopp who has brought his one-act play The Boring Room to the Vault Festival.
Three actors – Emily Stride, Jamie Laird and Michael Keane – take the audience on a magical ride through the detective story genre in three short stories that, as the publicity material says, explore crime, judgement and punishment in completely the wrong order. The audience is presented with crime authors in a locked room, a dead detective and an accused man in a police station supported by a defending solicitor that doesn’t seem to like her client very much.
This is an awful lot to cover in just about an hour, and I would love to say it works well as a production. Unfortunately, for me, it didn’t really. There were parts I absolutely loved. Particularly the opening scene with Christie, Doyle and Poe locked together in a room with only alcohol, a desk and a typewriter for company. In fact, I personally think this should be expanded into a play in its own right as I was really gripped by the idea of these three titans of fiction being together in a scenario like this.
I also enjoyed some of the ‘film noir’ style section. My favourite line ‘I knew this dame was trouble when she walked in and shot me in the head’ which I have to say is one of the funniest things I’ve heard in ages. In the final scene, I loved how Max seemed to almost not be aware of what was going on, asking the strangest questions such as which public institution served the worst food.
And this is what is frustrating for me as a reviewer. I think the problem for me was that there was too much being shoehorned into a small amount of time. There were so many good elements in the production. The writing was first rate – with some darkly comedic one-liners throughout – and the actors all did a great job of bringing their various characters to life. Tom Crowley’s directing worked well and good use was made of the space and the minimal scenery. However, my frustration was that I wanted time to really get to know the characters in each scene and follow their stories through to a logical, or even illogical ending. Its very rare that I recommend a play should be lengthened but I think The Boring Room is an example where it could and should be done.
To sum up, fans of detective fiction will have a great time spotting the various styles and characters but, for me, whilst I enjoyed the production overall, there just wasn’t enough time allowed to get really invested in each story which felt like a missed opportunity.
Review by Terry Eastham
Three celebrated crime writers trapped in an impossible prison. A young man accused of a crime he either did or didn’t commit. Two outlaws in love and a dead detective.
Three unconventional mysteries by comedy writer Olly Allsopp exploring crime, judgement and punishment in completely the wrong order. Packed full of desperate criminals, pompous authors and dark humour, The Boring Room is a black comedy which delivers a stab in the dark, a wail of despair and a kick in the knackers.
Emily Stride, Jamie Laird, Michael Keane
7th – 11th February 2018
Leake Street, London, SE17AD