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Murdered to Death at the Network Theatre

I bet not many of you realise that, aside from the Vaults, there is another thriving theatre nestling underneath Waterloo Station. It’s called the Network Theatre and has its own intrepid band of amateur thespians ready to take on and perform theatrical entertainment for those who wish to see it. Their latest show is a production of Peter Gordon’s spoof Agatha Christie murder mystery Murdered to Death.

Murdered to Death
Murdered to Death

Mildred Bagshot (Moira Cane) is very excited. A group of her friends – who she hasn’t seen since they were in Paris together a few years previously – are coming to spend the weekend with her and her niece Dorothy (Daniella Harrison). Less excited by the prospect of these visitors is the butler, and faithful old family retainer, Bunting (Fred Johnson) who would much prefer to be checking the level in the sherry bottle to opening the door and greeting guests. And what guests they are. First to arrive are Colonel Charles Craddock (Will Stotton) and his wife Margaret (Kate Hannam). They are swiftly followed by the final guests; socialite Elizabeth Hartley-Trumpington (Lorna Miri) and renowned artist Pierre Marceau (Liam McMahon). As everyone sits and has a welcoming glass of sherry, the bell rings once more and local amateur sleuth Joan Maple (Jennie Rich) joins the throng. Tension is in the air as secrets are revealed, and suddenly a gun goes off and someone lies dead. Enter the police in the shape of Inspector Pratt (Lio Lylark) and Constable Thomkins (Jess McGivern) who begin to interrogate everyone in the hunt for the murderer.

Murdered to Death is a wonderful pastiche of every Agatha Christie book ever written. We have all the standard AC elements – a country house, a group of people with secrets, an amateur detective, and real police officers who need a nudge or two in order to get to the solution. The writing is truly first-class and wonderfully funny throughout. Peter Gordon really knows his Christie and incorporates everything you would expect from the master of murder into the script.

A strong script needs a strong actor, particularly in the role of Inspector Pratt. The Character synopsis on Gordon’s website describes Inspector Pratt as “Inept, posing and clumsy” and Lio Lylark plays the role to perfection The trick to making comedy funny is to play it completely straight, something Lylark does with Panache. They deliver some wonderful lines and hilarious malapropisms which really get the audience chuckling along. Some of the best lines are with Jess McGivern’s courteous Constable Thompkins who is doing their best to guide their superior, even though it’s an eternally losing battle against low wattage. I also really loved the wonderful scene-stealing antics of Bunting the butler. Drunk or sober, Fred Johnson captures the servility of a domestic servant mixed with the obvious contempt they have for the world around them. Bunting is no Carson or Hudson, but they are far more fun.

In fact, everyone is fun, and everyone is enjoying themselves on the stage, something which really comes across to the audience who can also join in with the laughter. Owain Jones’s Direction is really good and they make full use of Paul Lunnon’s gentle sitting room set to tell the impressive story in an entertaining and engaging way. In fact, for once, I was caught out by the actual denouement and hadn’t worked out who did what and why.

I also loved the fact that every performance of Murdered to Death is going to be Closed Captioned. Initially, I was a little worried that the captioning would be a distraction sitting just above the centre of the stage, but full credit to the CC team – Caption Programmer KC Lylark and Caption Operator Audrey Guillois – it was not intrusive and when I did look occasionally, it reflected what was being said by the character. I do think Network Theatre should be congratulated for this innovation which ensures accessibility to all performances rather than special ones. Something other theatres should be looking at doing.

Overall I really enjoyed Murdered to Death. It was a well-put-together show with a talented cast and a great script that will be a pleasurable experience for any fan of murder mystery and comedy. In fact, and please forgive, I would say Murdered to Death is to die for.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

A hilarious spoof of Agatha Christie murder mystery traditions. In a 1930s country house the usual collection of characters assembles, including the wealthy homeowner, a stiff-upper lipped colonel, a shady French art dealer, a bumbling police inspector and an amateur sleuth who seems to attract murder wherever she goes. All are caught up in side-splitting antics following a mysterious death. Will the murderer be unmasked before everyone meets their doom, or will the audience die laughing first?

Cast
Moira Cane Mildred
Daniella Harrison Dorothy
Fred Johnson Bunting
Will Stotton Colonel Charles Craddock
Kate Hannam Margaret Craddock
Lorna Miri Elizabeth Hartley-Trumpington
Liam McMahon Pierre Marceau
Jennie Rich Joan Maple
Jess McGivern Constable Thomkins
Lio Lylark Inspector Pratt

Crew
KC Lylark Producer
Charlotte Mackintosh Assistant Director
Eshani Weeresinghe Stage Manager
Chloe Dodd Assistant Stage Manager
Paul Lunnon Set Designer
Jack Keller Assistant Set Designer
Alexandra Torresquintero Lighting Designer
Tom Cheeseman Sound Designer
KC Lylark Caption Programmer
Audrey Guillois Caption Operator

https://www.networktheatre.org/

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