Poor old theatre critics. We get blamed for a lot of things but I don’t recall any bad notices being responsible for the death of an actor. But I would say that.
Richard Levinson and William Link, who penned the hit US TV series Murder She Wrote, clearly have an axe to grind and theatre critics come in for a lot of stick in Rehearsal for Murder.
It was a 1982 TV movie before making a transition onto the stage. Bill Kenwright has come up with a revival for his new Classic Thriller Theatre Company (which has taken over the whodunnit mantle from his Agatha Christie players) and it opened at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre tonight.
The production is directed by Roy Marsden who knows a thing or two about murder after spending years solving crime as both mine and PD James’ favourite poetry writing cop, Adam Dalgliesh.
But this intriguing story, a play within a play and set in an empty theatre, tries so hard to be the ultimate murder mystery that it ties itself in knots. I came away picking holes in the plot and questioning the murderer’s motivation and reasoning. Yes, I know, I take these things far too seriously, but I’m a fan of the genre and professional honour was at stake.
David Rogers’ adaptation sees Robert Daws dominating the production with a scene-stealing performance as an obsessive playwright determined to discover who murdered his actress fiancée.
With a clever piece of staging the story is told partly in flashback and with an encore of the fateful night. The ghost of film star Monica Welles (Amy Robbins) hangs about the theatre, haunting Daws’ dramatist, Alex Dennison.
Welles had given up a lucrative film career to star in a new West End comedy written by Dennison but, come opening night, the play is deemed a flop and, a couple of hours after the curtain drops, the glamorous brunette is found dead after a fall from her apartment balcony.
The official line is that she killed herself, depressed at the notices she received (like we have that sort of power), but the heartbroken writer, who was due to marry the actress the day after the opening night, refuses to believe the police.
A year later Dennison turns up at the same, now empty, theatre to stage a re-enactment of that terrible opening night. Will he find the murderer and, more importantly, was it a member of the theatre company?
The always dependable Daws has a confident stage presence and beautiful clear diction which is a joy to listen to. He looks comfortable, working well with his real life wife, Amy Robbins, in their first joint stage performance, and both Daws, an author himself of murder mysteries, and Robbins, an actress, give utterly convincing turns as a writer and..er.. actress. Typecasting? Never!
They are ably supported by, among others, Kenwright regulars Robert Duncan as Dennison’s leading man David Matthews; Ben Nealon as romantic lead Leo and Susan Penhaligon playing theatre producer Bella Lamb.
Rehearsal for Murder isn’t as sophisticated as an Agatha Christie or a Peter James but the cast of 11 work hard to baffle and confound the audience and are let down by an over-plotted script which is just too elaborate and contrived.
Rehearsal for Murder runs at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre until Saturday.
Rehearsal for Murder tries hard to baffle and confound as a murder mystery set in a theatre. It almost succeeds.