Creator and Host: Tim Benzie
In the pantheon of famous mystery-solving sleuths that include such esteemed names as Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Scooby Doo, surely one of the most prolific has to be J. B. Fletcher. As portrayed by the wonderful Angela Lansbury in the massively successful TV show Murder, She Wrote, retired English teacher turned bestselling mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher managed to unravel the truth in an almost unbelievable 264 episodes between 1984 and 1996. The show lives on thanks to unending repeats and has managed to capture a whole new generation of fans in the process.
No doubt taking a cue from the ever-popular Sing-a-Long-a presentations that are now a staple of regional theatres across the UK, Murder, She Wrote “super-fan” Tim Benzie has come up with the concept of combining that with a Murder Mystery Night to create something truly unique. Surprise is a strong element of the evening and so this review will remain suitably vague.
Benzie begins the evening by entering dressed as Jessica Fletcher and hurriedly trying to recreate the TV show’s opening sequence as the iconic theme tune plays. He spends the entire evening dressed as Jessica and has several costume changes: the fact that he is a big, towering man with a full beard only adding to the hilariously unconvincing disguise. Benzie is an affable, witty and extremely enthusiastic host. Much of the joy of the evening is being in the presence of someone who clearly adores what he is talking about, and although he regularly makes fun of the TV show as it progresses, this is always gentle and good-natured: keeping his sharper barbs for the audience themselves.
This is an entirely interactive evening and it is explained from the start that knowledge of Murder, She Wrote as a whole is not required to have a good time, and a familiarity with the specific episode is not a hindrance for enjoyment either. At this performance the episode was Broadway Malady, set in and around the rehearsals for a musical in New York, Jessica getting embroiled while visiting her nephew who is acting as bookkeeper for the company. The actual 47 minute episode unfolds gradually on a large projection screen over the course of the evening as Benzie constantly interrupts to make jokes, point out flubs, and most importantly, involving the audience in solving the mystery alongside Jessica. This takes the form of identifying the suspects as they appear and establishing how famous the actors portraying the characters are in relation to each other, leading to a lovely tangent where Benzie shows footage of each one performing in their heyday. The episode plays on as the audience is encouraged to signify when something suspicious is happening or being said, which Benzie records on a visible chart and which will ultimately lead to the audience’s choice of the identity of the killer. Will the audience be as accurate as Jessica always is?
There is so much more to the evening than this summation which hardly does justice to the hard work that Benzie puts into his performance, as well as the obviously massive amount of preparation and research that goes into this. Benzie assures us that each time he visits a venue, the episode will be different, which shows both the respect that he has for his audience and the amount of work he is willing to put in to his passion project.
There are a few minor quibbles that it wouldn’t be fair not to point out. Solve-Along-A-Murder-She-Wrote was clearly created for relatively small venues, and even in a mid-sized theatre like Darlington Hippodrome, it feels slightly out of place. It no doubt benefits from being presented in a more intimate space, although the social distancing that currently needs to be implemented in theatres certainly doesn’t help either. Benzie stuffs a lot into the evening and it sometimes feels that he is trying too hard. Certain aspects such as the raffle and the quiz, while wonderful, feel unnecessary in a theatre setting and although Benzie’s slightly ramshackle approach to running the show completely by himself (lighting and sound techies and one FOH staff member aside) is charming and amusing, it does feel that an additional person to operate the video elements of the show would be hugely beneficial. However, Solve-Along-A-Murder-She-Wrote is still in its infancy (having debuted in 2019) and hopefully the success that it deserves can lead to expanding and modifying it for different sized venues in the future. With over 260 episodes to work with, Benzie certainly has plenty of potential material.
For a funny, campy evening, there is little that could beat Solve-Along-A-Murder-She-Wrote’s unique qualities and Benzie’s wit and charm. Personally this reviewer can’t wait to revisit Cabot Cove.
Never mind ‘whodunit’ – more like ‘yougottadoit’!
Touring across the UK
Details of upcoming dates and venues HERE