Dong Ding Murder Me On High ~ Lichfield Garrick Theatre

Dong Ding Murder Me On High has completed a short UK tour.

Star Rating: ****

Playwright Peter Gordon’s popular character, bumbling officer of the law, Pratt (David Callister) is back and he’s a Sergeant. It’s Christmas Eve and it’s anything but peaceful in the residence of Sir Walton Gates (Jeffrey Holland).

Mark Little and Jeffrey Holland as brothers, Archie and Walton.

The family are beginning to arrive while Personal Secretary, Morag McKay (Natasha Grey) is trying and failing to finish her work so that she might go home for the festive period. Emma Gates (Carly Day), (daughter of Sir Walton who acts like a stroppy teenager ever though she’s far older, in years at least), arrives with a new man in tow, James Washinton (Oliver Mellor). She’s spoiling for a fight with her step-mum, Grace (Anna Brecon), Sir Walton’s second wife, and has unwittingly brought Grace’s ex beau with her. Cue sneaking around and snogging in true bedroom farce style. Sir Walton is expecting his brother, Archie (Mark Little) who has travelled from Australia for a family reunion having been an outcast. The scene is set for a trouble-some family Christmas, and then there’s an addition to the predicted chaos, Pratt arrives with his colleague, Mary Potter (Polly Smith) to collect for charity. Why the police would do this on Christmas Eve? Who knows, but naturally an incident of some description is required for Pratt’s arrival. If it were real police business it’s highly unlikely he would show up!

It’s all slapstick humour and mistaken identity thanks to Sergeant Pratt’s general incompetence. However an offer from the Sergeant to perform a dangerous magic trick as part of his charitable efforts sets off a murderous chain of events. Hilarious consequences along the way? Guaranteed!

David Callister as Sergeant Pratt

I have seen David Callister play Pratt before, he epitomises the role and the audience were behind him all the way. Polly Smith was by far one of the stars of the show, her welsh accent was spot on and as a sidekick to Callister, to watch her performance was like a masterclass in itself. Jeffrey Holland was on fine form as Sir Walton, finding amusement in the situation and oblivious to the money grabbing reasons his wife, Grace has married him for. I enjoyed his interactions with his brother, Archie, and Holland is always a strong member of any cast, in my experience. Mark Little was predictably whacky as Archie, over-the-top Australian in every way, also in a way that piqued my curiosity – which was well placed as it transpired. I also enjoyed Oliver Mellor’s portrayal of James, the cad-like character who appears to be up to something.

Anna Brecon and Oliver Mellor as Grace and James
Photographs By: Sean Dillow.
http://www.TheBigCheesePhotography.co.uk

With a Pratt mystery you get the standard plot of a whodunit but with comedy to die for (pardon the pun) and an investigating officer who cannot string a sentence together without misplacing words. It’s a clever and well-crafted script that leads the audience wondrously up the garden path… where you’ll most likely find Sergeant Pratt lying face down in the gravel having tripped over his own feet!

 

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Secondary Cause of Death ~ Malvern Theatres

Touring production which finishes on Saturday 12 March at Malvern Theatres.

Secondary Cause of Death has landed at Malvern Theatres for the final leg of its tour, written by Peter Gordon and produced by Talking Scarlet. This features the bumbling Inspector Pratt who makes an appearance in a trilogy of Gordon plays (Death by Fatal Murder and Murdered to Death are the other two).

Set in Colonel Charles Craddock’s Country Manor House, Bagshot House, the guests of the Colonel are embarking upon a murder mystery style ‘parlour game’ which is hosted and written by Cynthia Maple (sister of Joan Maple, a nod towards Joan Marple, presumably!). Included in this charade are Count Puchlik of Puszczykowo from Poland, Lady Isodora Pollock who takes great delight in taking part in the game, over-acting like crazy. There’s also Henrietta Woolmer-Cardington who is an army captain and appears to be nice but dim – or is she? Lily Tuthill the cook who looks ready to skin a rabbit at a moment’s notice, and Cardew Longfellow, an actor employed by Miss Maple, who just happens to pay a resemblance to the Colonel – or does he? Either way, the bodies start piling up and the race is on to find out whodunit.

What’s refreshing about this is that it’s a farcical murder mystery and the ‘garden paths’ it leads the audience up are not only numerous, but all result in great hilarity. Inspector Pratt (played by David Callister with comic genius) moves from accusing no-one, declaring an obvious murder to be the secondary cause of death to announcing himself as the culprit (although he plans to plead innocent). It’s been a long time since I laughed out loud with such frequency during an evening at the theatre, and at a murder mystery of all things!

Judy Buxton is perfectly cast and puts in an excellent performance as Cynthia Maple, she’s the epitome of the formidable busy-body who sets the hapless Inspector straight. Liz Garland could be likened to a chameleon in her role as Henrietta, seemingly innocent but with a wholly different persona behind closed doors, Garland is an actress to watch out for, she shines in this production. Polly Smith is equally well cast as Lily Tuthill, the south western cook with her Mrs Overall style gait who is also not what she seems. David Janson brings a Manuel from Fawlty Towers quality to the role of the Count, he has some excellent slapstick scenes with Callister. Then there’s Jeffrey Holland, who demonstrates one of the many reasons why, in my opinion,  he’s one of our finest actors and remains so after years in the business, he switches seamlessly between the Colonel and Longfellow, his diction is precise and each character is played as an individual.

Secondary Cause of Death finishes its run in Malvern on Saturday 12 March and that is where the tour ends, so get your tickets by visiting this link: http://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk/

 

 

The Ghost Train ~ Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

train

The title of this ninety year old piece, for me, conjures up images of one of two scenes, the first being the popular and traditional ride found at fairgrounds, the second being that of a deserted old station which brings with it an eerie sense of foreboding. The latter would be the correct analogy when it comes to Arnold Ridley’s play. However far from being the thriller one would expect, it is indeed a comedy thriller which has the audience collectively gasping and then laughing in delight at the ‘slap-stick’ occurrences.

Fal Vale Station is set to close up for the night when a train stops there, courtesy of the communication cord having been pulled by an exuberant gentleman by the name of Teddie Deakin (played by Tom Butcher). The rest of the passengers who are stranded at the station due to Deakin’s ‘folly’ are unsurprisingly unimpressed to discover that they have to spend the night in the waiting room. Charles and Peggy Murdock (played by Chris Sheridan and Sophie Powels) are newly married and eagerly anticipating their honeymoon, Richard and Elsie Winthrop (Ben Roddy and Corinne Wicks) are not so newly married and discussing a separation. Either way, neither couple have anticipated waiting nine hours for a connecting train in the company of the perpetrator (Deakin).

The Station Master is not keen to stay with the group of stranded passengers and when he tells them why, a ‘journey’ commences which signals terror and hilarity. Jeffrey Holland plays Station Master, Saul Hodgkin, with a Cornish accent and superb diction, Holland plays the pivotal role astonishingly well and drew me in with his character’s story telling. Holland’s real life wife, Judy Buxton is the prim and proper Miss Bourne, who may appear to be the buttoned up spinster, but cheerfully informs her ‘companions’ that she was indeed “not neglected in my youth”, it’s a lovely eccentric part for Buxton which she embraces wonderfully.

The appearance of over-wrought Julia Price (Jo Castleton), her ‘concerned’ brother Herbert (David Janson) and Doctor John Sterling (John Hester) add an extra air of mystery to the fray. Castleton manages to create a delicious build up to the anticipated arrival of ‘The Ghost Train’, I for one, was gripped and found myself wanting to peer through the waiting room windows, too. It’s an atmospheric play, throughout and with not a weak link among the eleven-strong cast, I highly recommend that you go and see it. Buy your tickets to watch it at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, here: http://www.belgrade.co.uk/ alternatively, for remaining tour dates see http://www.talking-scarlet.co.uk.

 

 

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