Writers: Henry Shields, Henry Lewis &Jonathan Sayer
Director: Mark Bell
Reviewer: Victoria Bawtree
Its title may lend a strong clue as to this play’s subject, but it doesn’t prepare an audience for the stuff of nightmares that befalls the Cornley Polytechnic Society’s Am-Dram troupe as it embarks on its first ever National Tour of ‘Murder at Haversham Manor’ … pause for dramatic music … thanks to a generous legacy from the director’s Grandfather. The large budget allows for a sophisticated set – albeit one that is still being prepared by a slightly harassed crew as the house is opened – complete with ‘working’ lift, mezzanine floor and sturdy(ish) looking props. What, indeed, could possibly go wrong?
The unplanned silence; the mistimed adlib; the door that sticks; the misplaced or broken prop; a forgotten or overly long music cue… the list is endless. But this is amateur dramatics, and the show must go on: even in the face of knocking one’s leading lady unconscious, the Cornley Polytechnic Society, complete with admirable stiff upper lip, will carry on regardless.
Behind the hapless bunch of enthusiastic performers is the real life Mischief Theatre, founded only five years ago by graduates of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. The three writers are all members of the cast (Henry Shields, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer), as is the composer of some fantastic pastiche ‘whodunit’ incidental music (Rob Falconer). It would seem that in the true spirit of ‘Am-Dram’, those who love it and believe in it are those who bring this production to life on stage.
Dave Hearn as Max, an easily embarrassed enthusiast, is perfectly ‘miscast’ as Cecil Haversham, the brother supposedly having a passionate affair but who can’t bear to be touched. Jonathan Sayer slips effortlessly in and out of character as Dennis, the one who failed at everything else so thought he would try drama. Charlie Russell plays seasoned am-dram actress Sandra, who relishes every chance to strike a pose, forgetting that Florence Colleymoore is supposedly grieving for a dead fiancé. Henry Lewis is completely unflappable as Robert and makes getting it wrong look so right, and Henry Shields as Chris, Head of the Drama Society, director of the production and, inevitably, in the lead rôle of Inspector Carter, times a steady fall into hysteria perfectly while always clawing back a semblance of control of the chaos that surrounds him.
Of course, it is down to the skill of all eight performers that one gets to laugh out loud (a lot) at everything that can possibly go wrong. The pace is fast and the script tailored cleverly to each new disaster. Every facet of this production is beautifully detailed, even down to two sets of photos and biographies in the programme, which are definitely worth a read.
Special mention must go to Nigel Cook for a set that has everything including perfect timing, but also to all the cast for so heroically trying to hold it together. If this opening night is anything to go by, this is a comedy that looks set to sell out – grab a ticket while you can.
Runs until 25 January 2014 and continues to tour