Review by Danny Gaisin
“I am serious; and don’t call me Shirley”. Everyone remembers Leslie Nielson’s (Inspector Drebin) most famous tagline. If you can imagine 2½ hours of the same side-splitters, Peter Gordon’s Murdered to Death staged by Waterdown’s Village Theatre is a must-see. Under the direction of Graham Clements, the ten-person cast seem to having even more fun in doing their portrayals than the viewing audience’s enjoyment. Each character is a stereotype and the actors actually embellish their depictions. The whole thing start-to-finish is a hoot and totally entertaining.
The play is a sendoff of the iconic British whodunit genre, as epitomized by Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series. A 1930’s U.K. country estate; guests for the weekend; a nosy neighborhood spinster; some sub-plots & relationships, and of course, some murdering’s… all the formula’s requisite diversions for welcoming visitors. From a somewhat slow start, the householder, her niece; and the inebriated old family retainer start welcoming the invitees. After the first shooting, a police inspector and his constable arrive and from then on- debacle and fiasco. The Top cop is an idiot. Totally inept and clumsy, he is an unmitigated poseur in the Clouseau mode. The bumbling is compounded by an inability to remember names and whose English is completely malapropism-ic (sic). Such lines as ‘I can spot the guilty a mile off; at close range”; or confusing the homonym “niece/knees”, eliciting such laughter as to make the following dialogue occasionally missed.
Clements attention to his charges’ blocking and especially timing is immaculate. Each character is as bang-on as any successful stand-up performer. There are no weak interpretations but there are some standouts. As the somewhat plain niece, Jennifer Barclay utilizes an exceptionally mobile face, and her expressions easily underscore the emotion she’s supposed to embody. Even her kinesis is in character. Dianne McEwan is the Marple/ Maple/Mabel/Merle/etc. busybody; her stance; pauses and especially her costuming is so completely representative. One Knows who and what her persona will do and be. The long-suffering constable Thompkins/Thomson/Thomlinson/Thomas etc. misnomering, Dave Brennan is a sympathetic scene-stealer who also utilizes overt expressions to subtly denigrate his superior’s failings and pretensions.
The intellectually, linguistically and technically challenged Inspector is Julian Ford. His ability to say all the misnomers and the continual solecisms without so much as a smile shows enormous intestical fortitude (Editor: -pun intended). His relationship with his underling is so familiar that we kept waiting for a definitive Laurel & Hardy “Another fine mess you got me into” comment.
This is a big-time effort that succeeds on all levels. Utilizing the temporary facilities of St. James Church on Parkside Drive, the seats may be a little uncomfortable, and the level floor leaving line-of-sight problematic but these are small inconveniences given the standard of amusement & diversion the show offers.
Murdered to Death runs until Nov. 26th, and given the fun this writer & his muse had at opening night, hope VTW has a sold out run.
Suggestion: please consider staging Gordon’s “Secondary Cause for Murder” & his part 3 opus -‘Failed Murder” as annual follow-ups!