Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: The Hampstead Murder Mystery!, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Andrea Mullaney.
Spoofing Agatha Christie and other Golden Age crime stories is hardly the most original or subtle of comic premises, it has to be said. The plodding policeman and the arch detective, the mysterious lady and the giggling maids, the homoerotic inferences, the strangulated accents and the sudden appearance of convenient clues: every cliché of the genre which has been mocked to death for almost a century is ruthlessly exploited here.
But it’s done with such energy, charm and sheer luxury that (unlike the culprit) they get away with it, in a sparkling, frenetic production which is beautifully designed and directed. The set is a marvellously adaptable machine, constantly rearranging to produce a dizzying number of locations.
And the large cast (made up of members of the Young Pleasance company) step up to match its professionalism with uniformly strong performances, managing to make some 150 different characters quite distinct.
The silly plot concerns the discovery of a body in the library: High Court judge Sir Horace has been killed and the Yard’s Detective Inspector Chipperfield is on the case, with his gormless assistant, while dapper amateur detective Montague Crewe hovers in the wings. In the running for murderer are his mysterious lady friend, a butler with a past, a burglar or, perhaps, someone else.
It’s not an especially challenging mystery to solve, but the fun is in the company’s utter commitment to it, whether portraying gossiping crowds, suspects or policemen, who at one point chase their quarry through the audience.
The more nuanced aspects of 1920s society, or the question of why these nostalgic drawing-room mysteries still hold such sway over British audiences, are left aside for sheer parody, but it is to such a high standard that the production values outweigh the material – as often happens in more “straight” TV adaptations of Agatha Christie anyway.
The result is a slick, audience-pleasing entertainment.
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) until 22 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 20 August 2015
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