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Busman’s Honeymoon at The Mill at Sonning Theatre

At the end, the audience is told, in Brian Blessed’s trademark booming voice, not to reveal the ending, because it’s the only one they’ve got. The Wikipedia entry for the novel Busman’s Honeymoon has it, for those who strongly believe that knowledge is power, though this production takes the scenic route to its destination, with several proverbial diversions and temporary lights along the way slowing its progress. It is still, generally speaking, a bit rude to point, though a man in the row in front couldn’t help but point out to his companion that someone in the front row had evidently fallen asleep. Quite frankly, if I hadn’t been in review mode, I might have done the same.

Busman's Honeymoon Christian Ballantyne (Frank Crutchley) Photo Andreas Lambis.
Busman’s Honeymoon Christian Ballantyne (Frank Crutchley) Photo Andreas Lambis.

To be fair, the delicious and filling dinner laid on by the theatre before the show doesn’t, as I have previously discovered, always make it easy to maintain interest in something that isn’t an all-singing, all-dancing musical extravaganza. But, as Edith Piaf put it, “Non, rien de rien, non, je ne regrette rien” – I had forgotten my own previous advice not to overdo it with the gravy at the buffet tables, and did my best to make sure none of it spilled on the floor as I made my way to the allocated dinner table. The dessert is also substantial: I didn’t exactly have to force it down, but any and all offers from other diners to help finish theirs had to be politely declined.

Lord Peter Wimsey (James Sheldon) and Harriet Vane (Kate Tydman) are spending their honeymoon in Hertfordshire – which seems a curious location for a honeymoon for a couple who aren’t exactly watching how many pennies are being spent on bread and soup, until it becomes clear they’re spending time in a property he has purchased for her. It’s not made entirely clear when the play is set, though there is a butler, Mervyn Bunter (George Tefler), and a housekeeper, Mrs Ruddle (Joanna Brookes), and events on the night in question are partly determined by the timing of an evening news broadcast.

There is a murder investigation, led by Wimsey, a private investigator, hence the show’s title. The victim, a Mr Noakes, was the uncle of Agnes Twitterton (Helen Gang), and also the previous owner of the property, which explains why she had her personal belongings in the property – though not why they were still there if the property had been sold on. How Noakes ended up dead is dramatized very effectively, but much of the build-up to a scintillating finale contains too much exposition and talking heads: were we watching a play, or a talk show?

Various characters have their eccentricities – I would have supplied examples but that would be giving too much away – and some appear, with hindsight, to have been introduced to the narrative as red herrings as the audience continue to consider the whodunit possibilities. The parish vicar, the Rev Simon Goodacre (Duncan Wilkins) makes an early appearance but it is a long time before he is back in the room. There is altogether too much detail, including an entirely superfluous scene about the apparent mishandling of some bottles of liquor.

Bunter begins massaging Vane, which was random and bizarre irrespective of the play’s setting, not least because she gave no indication of wanting one. Class distinctions and societal norms are explored sufficiently, but the production lacks the whimsicality of a Noel Coward play whilst also lacking the gravitas of an Agatha Christie plot. I was asked at the interval who I thought killed Noakes. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement to have replied that I wasn’t sure… if I cared.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Lord Peter Wimsey – upper crust sleuth – has married his lovely fiancee, Harriet Vane. But his honeymoon bliss is shattered when the dead body of the house’s previous owner turns up in the cellar.

A brilliant whodunnit filled with thrills and humour directed by Brian Blessed!

Cast: James Sheldon as Lord Peter Wimsey, Kate Tydman as Harriet Vane, Joanna Brookes as Mrs Martha Ruddle and George Telfer as Mervyn Bunter with Christian Ballanytne, Helen Bang, Luke Barton, Chris Porter, Iain Stuart Robertson, Noel White and Duncan Wilkins.

Creative team: Director Brian Blessed. Set Designer Michael Holt . Costume Designer Natalie Titchener
Lighting Designer Matt Biss.

28 April – 25 June 2022

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