Book: Rachel Axler and Kait Kerrigan
Music: Jason Howland
Lyrics: Nathan Tysen
Director: Benji Sperring
With profound discussions taking place for many months about what theatre should look like in the future, it is nice to see that silliness and fun are also on the agenda. The UK premiere of Rachel Axler, Kait Kerrigan, Jason Howland and Benji Sperring’s musical A Killer Party is certainly a light-hearted and often affectionately zany murder mystery, made available in nine episodes via Stream Theatre and designed to lift the spirits.
Blackpool impresario Varthur McArthur has a new play, a murder mystery, for his end-of-the-pier theatre and invites his regular team to a fancy-dress dinner party to read the new script in character. After tasting the soup, MacArthur suddenly ends up face-down in it and one of his guests is to blame. Soon the only ‘detective’ available, traffic warden and wannabe private-eye Justine Case, is called in to interview these theatrical suspects one-by-one.
A Killer Party premiered in America last year and like Kander and Ebb’s Curtains, the heightened scenario is filled with larger-than-life characters, plenty of theatrical in-jokes and dubious alibis. It is a show you may need to be in the right mood for and even then, it may take a few episodes to win you over but when it does, watched in quick succession, it is compellingly wacky, breaking down any resistance you may feebly attempt in the early part of the series.
Directed by Benji Sperring, every episode is focused around one of the suspects and each segment runs at between 7 and 18-minutes depending on the cliffhanger moment, with a combined length of 1 hour and 40-minutes. This occasionally makes the episodes feel uneven, some over before they have barely begun, which is not reflected in the flat per episode pricing structure on Stream Theatre and purchasing the complete run is, as you might expect, very slightly more cost effective.
All filmed in the actors’ homes with social distancing in place, Sperring finds some commonality among the various rooms to create the feel of a single location, knowingly using the same doorways with different items on the shelves to imply new rooms. Some of the other choices are particularly entertaining, using cheesy music video approaches to stage character Shea Crescendo’s (Oscar Conlon-Morrey) hilarious number in Episode 3 as well as Vivika Orsonwelles (Debbie Kurup) and George Murderer’s (Cedric Neal) R&B-style duet in Episode 6, not to mention Ben Forster’s tiny cameo in Episode 7.
The actors of course not just chew but unanimously devour the scenery with additional stand-out performances from Harriet Thorpe as the older detective writing her memoir, Rachel Tucker as the widow with her own Zoom business and, briefly, Jason Manford as McArthur. Cameron Mitchell John, Lucas Rush, Emma Salvo and Amara Okereke complete the cast as the chorus boy turned waiter, stage manager, young detective and new leading lady.
A Killer Party is in some ways one elongated joke with two dimensional characters and a roving perspective which sometimes follows Justine Case as well as conversations she doesn’t see, but the songs are entertaining with broad influence from musical theatre to rock, pop and country, and the cast certainly give it their all. Whodunnit is never the real point of a murder mystery, it is the process of elimination along the way and while you may be sceptical at first, eventually A Killer Party will convince you.
Runs here until 30 May 2021