Book: Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair
Music: Joe Kinosian
Lyrics: Kellen Blair
Director: Luke Sheppard
Reviewer: James Garrington
The tale of the country-house murder has been around for a long time, and Murder for Two is another incarnation of the concept, but with a few twists along the way. It’s the same basic concept, though, and builds on the sort of thing that Agatha Christie developed with such success.
A famous writer is murdered at a party, and the detective who has been summoned to investigate the crime is delayed. This leaves local cop and wannabe-Detective, Marcus Moscowicz, with a room full of suspects, and an hour to prove he can solve the crime and get the promotion that he longs for. Accompanied only by his invisible and voiceless colleague Lou, Moscowicz sets about the task, confident that following strict crime-scene protocol will see him through.
Murder for Two is a musical mystery in which two actors play thirteen characters – and the piano. The promotion-seeking cop is played by Ed MacArthur, while Jeremy Legat plays all of the suspects – and both play the piano. There is no doubt that there is a great deal of skill on display here – Legat, in particular, manages to portray a large array of different characters, male and female, young and old, with nothing more than a change of hat, spectacles, voice and mannerisms. The piano playing is done extremely well, with both of the actors showing great proficiency both individually and together, as they swap players mid-song without missing a beat. The whole piece is pretty high-energy too, and somewhat madcap both in some of the acting performances and the music, with some good vocal skills on show alongside everything else. Then there’s the basic story itself, which has all of the elements you’d expect to find in a classic whodunit – a number of suspects, motives, clues to the murderer – everything you need to engage a fan of the genre.
Individually all of the elements are there to make this a good show – but when put together it just doesn’t quite hit the mark. The whole thing feels very contrived and the characterisations are so thin as to be barely even two-dimensional. It’s billed as a musical comedy, and while there is certainly no shortage of music the comedy is sometimes lacking – there are some amusing characterisations, but the majority of the laughs come from the music and lyrics. The setting is somewhat confusing too – the set is clearly intended to be an office, all girders and brick walls and a huge amount of distracting clutter, but right at the start a model of a country house is produced and placed on the piano. Is that meant to indicate we’re actually in a house – and if so, why not make the set a house rather than an office?
Perhaps the difficulty arises from the show’s American roots with the comedy and characters not working so well for a UK audience, because the foundations are all here to create something good. It also feels as though it would sit better in a smaller space than the Theatre Royal – you can’t imagine Murder for Two ever being able to fill a large theatre successfully. MacArthur and Legat both work extremely hard throughout but barely manage to compensate for the flaws in the script, characterisation and staging.
Runs Until 28 November 2018 | Image: Scott Rylander