Reviewed by Helen and Garry McWilliams
As Ian Dickens’ summer season at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton comes to a close this week with the Emlyn Williams thriller ‘A Murder Has Been Arranged’, we were keen to see this final play in particular as we were not familiar with Williams’ work. With a strong cast headlined by Anita Harris, Coronation Street’s Oliver Mellor and the ever popular Karen Ford, there was fair promise of an excellent production.
From the title, one could be mistaken for thinking that this might be a murder mystery and that your ‘sleuthing hat’ wouldn’t go amiss, however it is a good old fashioned thriller. Set within a theatrical set at St. James’ Theatre, (Sir Charles Jasper’s choice of venue for his 50th birthday celebration), both Mrs Wragg (Jasper’s cook) and Miss Groze (his private secretary) are frightened of their haunting surroundings. They have prior knowledge of a murder that occurred there the previous week and indeed with Sir Charles’ enthusiasm for the occult (he’s written a book about the ghostly happenings linked to murder at this very theatre), too much knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing.
It is clear from the out-set that the intended victim is Sir Charles, with a sum of 2 million pounds in inheritance due to him if he lives to see 11pm on the evening of his birthday – and one remaining living relative by the name of Maurice Mullins who would be next in line for the fortune, it is an obvious plot. Indeed the arrival of Maurice Mullins (played by Oliver Mellor of Coronation Street fame) livens the rather slow-paced play. Mullins is a vibrant individual who appears to be everybody’s ‘friend’ and Mellor takes on a rather ‘Mr Toad’ type of characterisation which works well. Naturally, he isn’t all that he appears, but the same goes for another member of the party.
Act two takes on more of a ghost story feel, but it is fascinating to watch the contents of Sir Charles’ book come to fruition and there are a few moments where we ‘jumped’ in our seats. We were both expecting an additional twist that never came, that was slightly disappointing but it didn’t detract from the excellence of the production.
There are outstanding performances from Anita Harris as Mother to Sir Charles’ wife and Poppy Meadows as Miss Groze who uses some superb facial expressions which add an air of mystery to her character. However, Oliver Mellor steals the show with his hilarious yet deeply sinister performance as the much mentioned but not necessarily anticipated Maurice Mullins.
‘A Murder Is Arranged’ runs until Saturday, for information and to book tickets please visit www.grandtheatre.info.