Murder for Two

Reviewer’s Rating

Much is made in the programme for Murder for Two – the show which has just ensconced itself for Christmas at The Other Palace’s downstairs studio – about it being a cross between an Agatha Christie ‘whodunnit’ and a Marx Brothers film. Neither genre lends itself particularly to musicalisation, so it’s certainly to the credit of the writers, Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, that they have a show at all.

The show is set in America. I’m not entirely sure when… there’s a whole heap of impressive and detailed scenery (designer Gabriella Slade) on the studio’s pocket-handkerchief-sized stage which shouts out ‘film noir’, and which, when coupled with the costumes, could place the action any time from the early nineteen forties to the late nineteen fifties, and yet one of the characters has a mobile phone which places the action at the very least in the mid nineteen eighties. After the initial confusion I decided to just go with the flow. There were much crazier things going on elsewhere…

The most important thing I can tell you is that this show has a cast of two, and a piano. Both cast members play the piano and sing as necessary, the one (Ed MacArthur) playing Officer Marcus, the lead, and the other (Jeremy Legat) playing the remaining characters, both male and female, except the invisible ones…I said there were crazy things going on…

The premise is this. A murder has been committed. A wealthy and by all accounts unpleasant author has been shot in the head during a party to which he’s invited a whole cross-section of people, each of whom has a motive for wanting him dead.

So far, so good, but that’s not a musical. We need somebody in whom to invest our emotional capital, and fortunately up he pops, first on the scene, Officer Marcus, with a genuine, bona fine want: he desperately wants a promotion to detective.

To increase the tension the writers have given us a ticking clock. The ACTUAL detective is an hour away (we get bulletins as he draws closer). Will Officer Marcus crack the case, securing glory and a possible promotion before the real detective turns up? It’s a nice touch.

Jeremy Legat playing the ensemble is called upon to play everything from the remaining members of a twelve strong boys’ choir, to a ballerina, the victim’s wife, his neighbours, his psychiatrist, well, the list goes on and he does so admirably.

In fact both performers go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure we, the audience, have a good time…

But, if I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure this style of writing works for a ninety minute show. Don’t get me wrong, the writing’s fantastic, and I really look forward to seeing a bigger, more complex show from these talented writers.

But after about twenty minutes in I didn’t feel like I was experiencing the writing so much as being hit around the head with a hard-bound copy of the script. Relentless starts out funny, but soon gets very wearing. The answer would usually be one of ‘light and shade’ (changing the tone) but when you have only a cast of two it’s difficult to know how you’d manage it.

There’s also a dip about fifteen minutes in when the focus moves from Officer Marcus in whom we’ve invested our emotional capital, to the facts of the case as seen through the eyes of each of the suspects. A dip which is avoided in Act Two by the addition of love interest…

Still, in spite of its slight shortcomings, there’s easily enough to give you a cracking evening’s entertainment…and the bar is in the same room. What more could you ask for at Christmas?