Rehearsal For Murder – Review – Leeds Grand

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Rehearsal For Murder – Review

Leeds Grand, July 2016

by Sandra Callard

Bill Kenwright’s new enterprise, The Classic Thriller Theatre Company, bodes well for all murder mystery fans, myself included, and the Grand Theatre in Leeds is hosting the first offering from the new company, Rehearsal for Murder.

rehearsal for murder grand theatre 2016It is a classic who-done-it scenario; seven suspects in a confined area, this time on a theatre stage, supposedly meeting to discuss a new play.  However, instead of one of them getting bumped off, as is expected in a murder mystery, the playwright expounds his theory that his year-long dead fiancée did not commit suicide, as is supposed, but has, in fact, been murdered.

So far so good, nice twist. The writer, Alex Dennison, is played with serious panache by Alex Ferns, whilst looking like an out-of-date science teacher dressed by Primark. Scenes follow between himself and his dead fiancée, the beautiful Monica, played artfully by Susie Amy, which, after some confusion on our part, we eventually discern to be flashbacks leading up to her murder.

“A creditable denouement”

Back to the present, there follows the usual suspects, who all look decidedly guilty and have decent motives. Superior amongst them are Anita Harris playing rich backer Bella Lamb, and Mark Wynter as ageing actor David Mathews. Mark Wynter is especially impressive as an actor. It gave me quite a start to realise it is the same Mark Wynter I remember from my far off youth when he was belting out some extremely good pop songs.  He has made a very good job of diversifying.

rehearsal for murder leedsRehearsal For Murder then follows the tried and tested route of red herrings, truths and lies. It eventually comes up with a creditable denouement as the murderer is exposed. All very neat and satisfying, albeit with a very predictable format. I could have done with a bit more soul and personality from the suspects, and indeed from the accuser. I did sometimes feel that the dead Monica was more alive than the live actors on the stage, who were also playing actors on the stage, if you follow me.

“Expect grander things”

However, the set and the lighting are good and add to the atmosphere. But the many empty rows in the theatre indicate that perhaps this style of production is not to modern tastes. With many extraordinary productions now being staged, are murder mysteries too tame, ordinary and predictable? Perhaps we have learnt to expect grander things.

I am an extreme fan of the Golden Age of Crime novels when Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh were at their brilliant best. Murder mysteries must be read alone on a winter’s night. Perhaps in front of a fire, with the book in one hand and a gin and tonic in the other. Here, the characters come to life in the mind of the reader. The genre does not transfer easily to the stage. Even with the stupendous and unfathomable success of The Mousetrap, seen by me three times in an endeavour to discover its appeal, I still feel most of them miss the mark. So, verdict for Kenwright’s new company: Not Bad, but Must Try Harder.

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