Murder On Air – Review

Jenny Seagrove, Murder On Air.

When a big national tour is unexpectedly pulled there are a number of theatres around the country that suddenly face being dark for the week.

But the demise of The Last Of The Duty Free is a bit of a bonus for whodunit fans and, in particular, those who remember sitting engrossed in the latest Agatha Christie murder mystery broadcast “back in the day” by those awfully nicely spoken BBC Radio presenters.

Radio for the stage? The Hitchhikers Guide showed how it could be done – and jolly successful it was too (until that was also, inexplicably, pulled from the theatre schedules).

Murder On Air, which opened a three night run Milton Keynes Theatre last night, is in a similar vein in that the simple set depicts a radio studio and you have awfully nicely spoken actors reading from scripts while a “back-stage” technician provides the sound effects.

Producer Bill Kenwright’s Agatha Christie Company, serve up three short stories that have, between 1937 and 1954 been aired on the BBC wireless.

Kenwright’s partner, the sparkling and ever reliable Jenny Seagrove, stars alongside theatre favourite Tom Conti, straight from a success in the West End hit, Twelve Angry Men, plus support from a cast of six.

MURDER ON AIR

However, there was almost mutiny from the audience by the end of the first act as sound problems meant that almost every word that Conti uttered went unheard.

This was a huge disappointment as two of the three plays – Personal Call and The Yellow Iris – made up the first act.

In Iris Conti plays Christie’s famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, but only those with exceptional hearing, lip-readers and people in the first row, heard any of the dialogue.

There were grumblings from those in the stalls so goodness knows what those in the circle made of it all.

But after the interval, and numerous complaints from disgruntled ticket-holders, Mr Conti came on in full voice for Butter In A Lordly Dish.

They’re three fascinating plays but watching them “broadcast” on stage adds nothing to their attraction.

All you had was seven actors – Conti, Seagrove, Louise Faulkner, Simon Linnell, David Osmond, David Partridge, Elizabeth Payne standing on stage reading from scripts while sound effects man, Alexander S Bermange did his work in the corner.

You could have saved yourself the cost of the tickets and switched on BBC Radio 4 for a free play – or bought the books and read them yourself.

The most interesting part of the production was watching a very capable Bermange create the various sound effects with, at times, input from the actors. Partridge does a very fine steam train impersonation.

Murder On Air was started as an experiment and should have been strangled at birth. It’s lazy theatre involving no acting at all.

However, it will appeal to Christie fans who have 90 minutes (plus interval) to spare to sit back, close their eyes and listen to three radio plays in the making.

Running at Milton Keynes Theatre until Wednesday then touring.

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