Book, Music and Lyrics: Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair
Director: Luke Shepherd
Review: David Jobson
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Watermill Theatre, and to start off this special year the venue is once again delving into a genre that they’ve come to specialise in. The small-scale musical where the cast play both actor and musician.
This time they’re bringing a little fringe musical over from overseas, with the European premiere of Murder for Two. With the talents of Luke Shepperd at the helm, who previously managed to squeeze Oliver! into the tiny Watermill space, this proves to be engaging and hilarious production.
Instead of a dozen or so cast members filling the space to the rafters, this is a two-hander musical. Jeremy Legat and Ed MacArthur deliver a vaudeville-esque musical, parodying the ‘who-dunnit’ genre with its tropes and character archetypes. As the programme suggests this is “Agatha Christie meets the Marx Brothers over a game of Cluedo”.
The play begins fittingly in an old mansion, where a surprise birthday party goes horribly wrong. Acclaimed mystery writer Arthur Whitney has been shot, and all the guests are suspects in what is a gruelling case for Officer Marcus.
Ed MacArthur excels as our bright young hero. An aspiring officer whose fondest wish is to become a detective he does everything by the book. But with the detective an hour away he decides to take matters into his own hands and take on the case himself. A tad clumsy and he can’t keep his eye off the ladies, but his earnestness is enough to win over the audience
Still, as much as MacArhur can lay on the charm as Marcus, it is Jeremy Legat who is the star of the show. An avid performer who gives non-stop animated performances, it is no surprise that he has been landed with this role
Or should that be ‘roles’ because he has to play all the suspects that Officer Marcus has to interrogate. All of them archetypes of the characters you’d expect to find in your typical whodunit story.
The deceased’s scatterbrained wife who can’t help but show her resentment for him, the doctor who just happens to have everyone as his patient, the renowned ballerina who tries to flirt with our hero, the squabbling couple pointing fingers at each other
Legat switches between each character in seconds. Swapping hats, flinging on bottle-bottom glasses, swaying his hips, hunching his back and bringing a myriad of expressions to this face, encapsulating every character with an entirely different voice. Even getting down on his knees and playing little choir boys.
If Legat’s performance does overshadow MacArthur, it is only when the two play off each other that the show really comes together. The straight man against the myriad of larger-than-life characters played by one person. The chemistry between the two performers is an absolute joy as they share music and singing duties, occasionally performing as a duo on the piano
This is purely a musical parody of your favourite old-fashioned mystery genre. It does take a while to get going in the first act, producing smatterings of laughter every minute or so, While the audience is fed the exposition. But the second act pulls out the stops to deliver a climax that is side-splittingly mad-cap, if a tad confusing
All of this is achieved in the tiny Watermill Theatre space. The dark and dingy set that looks like it comes straight out of a noir film is put to good use, especially by the end. It is only spoilt by the use of modern references like mobiles and weight watchers.
In fact, the musical is full of ideas and moments that either work or don’t seem to go anywhere. At one point the musical brings in Officer Marcus’ past relationship with a psychopathic woman, which is never brought up again. Later the production completely breaks out of its noir setting to deliver a soul number, which certainly brought the house down. But again what was the point?
Still, these problems fly by as the duo delivered a fast paced and fun musical. Don’t go in expecting a well-written whodunit but a loving and hilarious parody of the genre. This is a delight for audiences young and old.
Runs until 25 February 2017 | Scott Rylander