When asked what makes comedy the late great Charlie Chaplin is said to have said, “Stepping over a banana skin and into an open manhole.” He was talking “moving pictures” so we must assume that the audience does not get to see the manhole till immediately after the hazard of the banana skin has passed.
Murder by Misadventure has some dry one-liners, but it’s not a comedy. It’s a murder mystery. Nevertheless Chaplin’s comment carries a message for the Arts’ current production of the piece.
Murder is serious business. Sometimes bloody serious business. For 90 percent of its running time that’s where we should have been > locked into the belief that we were watching serious murder business (granted by first-timers at the murder trade), but serious murder business nonetheless. Until the last gasp of a character for whom rigor mortis is certain, we should have remained totally ignorant of who had done what to whom and most importantly how and when.
Generally Gary O’Neil’s tight and well-moved-and-timed production would have done its part in generating and maintaining that belief. On its own it would have allowed us to see two of the protagonists plotting to execute the perfect murder by stepping over the “banana-skin” of any flaws in the plan.
Regrettably the printed program doesn’t allow the production to reach its full potential. It may not quite show us the manhole in the mayhem but it comes very close. “About the play” renders much of the first act dialogue second-hand information. Otherwise the program offers so many hints that all is not as it seems, that we spend our watching time more primed to second-guessing than being engaged in what is a wonderfully constructed piece of mystery theatre, with a few minor and a couple of major moments of comic relief. In a theatre as intimate as the Arts it could have been played with the intimate tensions of television.
Of the players only Greg Hood displays the degree of reality and intensity that the play in its deceptions demands. While the performances of Ken Callan and Lynne Schofield were secure in pace and timing, it was difficult at any time to believe that they believed in the situation or were seriously engaged in the serious business of murder.
As may be evident this reviewer is trying desperately to avoid the pitfalls of the program. For that reason I can only say of Darrell Plumridge’s Inspector Egan, that he too only skims the surface of what is one of the most difficult “double acts” any actor faces.
The play ran two years in the West End, the program informs. The plot justifies that level of popularity. This production is worth a visit. But don’t read the program till it’s over!