Review: Murder in Play

MILO YIANNOPOULOS: ‘Murder in Play was smooth, confident and is sure to get even better over the next few days’.

Peterhouse Theatre

Thursday 4th – Saturday 6th, 7.30 at the Friends of Peterhouse Theatre. £4-5.

Directed by Melissa Hussey.

You might think it impossible, even for the most churlish of reviewers, to give a bad write-up of a play whose crew list includes a “weaponry supervisor” and someone called Zsi-Zsi Lescrooge. Fortunately for the Friends of Peterhouse Theatre, there was no opportunity to test that theory last night.

Before I go on, a disclaimer: I do have a particular fondness for this College (the less said about the bushes behind the dining hall the better). It’s where I first applied to Cambridge, and I’m generally reluctant to criticise it because it embodies the dream for me. But even I, as a blind fan of Peterhouse, didn’t expect such a poised performance from amateur thespians. Murder in Play was everything you might expect from a Peterhouse show: classy, polished and very entertaining. Occasional slippages and dramatic imbalances were weaknesses in the script first, weaknesses of performance second.

Murder in Play is a play within a play. It owes much to Hamlet, and specifically references Shakespeare’s masterpiece at least once. As such, and because a lot of the action on stage consists of actors playing actors rehearsing scenes for the sub-play “Murder at Priorswell Manor”, it’s definitely theatregoer’s theatre: smart, self-referential and not above repetitive meta gags. That the Friends could pull those tricks off, yet still give a performance that had a senior citizen in the front row cackling from beginning to end, was impressive.

It's also a gift to competent actors, with memorable soundbites it’s really quite difficult to fuck up, like Boris’s “I want you to look like an accident in an abattoir.” But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon by a really assured rendering, which is precisely what the Friends offered us.

Nalân Burgess, playing Sophie Lawton, playing Triggs (and, later, other characters) deserves a nod. She gave a graceful, crisp and intelligent reading of her part, while retaining a chirpy, Rachel Berry-esque cute factor. It’s not easy to shine in a cast of this calibre, but she managed it.

Angela Liu has the makings of a fine actress, but she needs to be more confident in her delivery and ham it down a bit. She’s more than good enough without grotesque over-acting, which spoils those sinister moments so essential to a good interpretation of Renee Savage. Natasha Yapp’s lesbian Kathy Bates didn’t quite hit the mark for me, and nor did James Kellett’s rendering of thirsty ham Harrison Bracewell (though he certainly succeeded in making the character irritating, which I guess is what the director asked of him).

There was a slight loss of energy from the whole cast toward the end of the second act, and consequently the denouement fell slightly flat. But now I’m just scratching around for things to complain about.

Most first nights in Cambridge feel like technical rehearsals, punctuated with verbal cock-ups and dodgy sound effects as the cast and crew struggle to attune to each others’ rhythms. By contrast, Murder in Play was smooth, confident and is sure to get even better over the next few days. If slick drawing-room comedy is your thing, book now.