‘The Case of the Pink Wellington Boots with the Red Hearts‘. Not the kind of title you’d expect to spring from Agatha Christie’s pen – instead, an evening of murder mystery hijinks courtesy of Degrees of Error and their show Murder, She Didn’t Write. Within a loose structure, everything you see on stage is improvised on the night; at the beginning an assistant to the detective is chosen from the audience, with their main task being to wear a deerstalker, and make the final choice on the event at which the murder takes place, a key clue, and an identifying feature of said clue. Our murder on Sunday night took place at a llama race (of all things), and the aforementioned wellies were found with the body…
It’s almost like an Agatha Christie ‘choose your own adventure’ with a dash of Cluedo mixed in, as the characters are all helpfully named after the colour that predominates in their costume: Violet Violet (“so good they named her twice”), Graham Green, Professor Augustine Gold, Bertie Blue, Angus Orange and Scarlett Violet. Their identifying colours are also used to move the plot forward, as the detective’s assistant picks a card with one of the six colours on it to determine the victim and, later, the killer. This definitely ups the improv stakes a bit, as these choices are made once they’ve already begun to set the scene – so the cast have to then try and work in whatever background information they’ve already provided, twisting it to fit the evolving plot. Having a degree of interactivity makes the audience feel involved, but keeping it to this small amount means that the show doesn’t get stuck in the mud and progresses at a reasonable pace. Patrons are also given the opportunity to point “the finger of suspicion” at the suspect they think is the killer, before the detective (Scott Lanyard, at this performance) tells us who it really is, in true Poirot style.
I’ve had to do a bit of detective work of my own to find out which of the company were part of this particular performance, as unfortunately there were no clues left by the venue – I think it’s only fair that they all get due credit for the hard work and ridiculous things they end up having to say or do (exhibit A: the llama piston). Co-directors Lizzy Skrzypiec & Stephen Clements as Violet & Detective Scott Lanyard, production manager Tessa Gaukroger as Scarlett, Peter Baker (currently starring as Trigger in Only Fools and Horses – The Musical) as Green, Andrew Kelly as Orange, company director Caitlin Campbell as Gold and possibly Tom Bridges as Blue, as well as resident MD Sara Garrard on piano.
Kelly was particularly impressive, as he really ramped up the absurdist humour (when you’re dealing with a llama race, where else can you go?) and seemingly took great delight in some quick-witted double entendres. Skrzypiec and Baker made a great double act as illicit lovers, as well as coming up with their own unique & suggestive methods of mounting and riding their llamas…
The use of flashbacks (as you’d expect from your TV whodunnits) was a clever inclusion that I wasn’t expecting, and something else to keep the cast on their toes – this feature is clearly signposted with the stage lit in red, so the audience can clearly tell what’s going on. Amidst the chaos it is still possible to keep track of the developing story (even laughter drowning out the bulk of a scene when the cast hit upon the idea of the “llama cave” echoing didn’t stop them from getting the important details out there), so whilst it is mostly a comedy show that tests its company’s improv skills, there is plenty to follow. It even has an interval, so the show is broken down into two manageable sections.
If you enjoy things like Austentatious or even Shit-faced Shakespeare/Shit-faced Showtime, then this should be right up your street. It’s the perfect thing to have a good old laugh at – and maybe test “ze little grey cells” should you so desire.
My verdict? A fun and engaging way of showcasing some fine comedy improv talent, and a great one to revisit as you’ll never get the same story twice – an entertaining night all round.
Murder, She Didn’t Write was at Leicester Square Theatre on 24 March, and returns on 28 April and 19 May. Tickets are available online or from the box office. Full details of the tour can be found on the official website.