Theatre review by Hannah Richardson
I have to say, I was disappointed with the latest touring production at Milton Keynes Theatre.
Which is sad, because Rehearsal For Murder, on stage in MK until Saturday, comes from the pen of the award-winning writing team Richard Levinson and William Link, creators of the much-loved TV detective series Murder She Wrote and Columbo, .
Following the decade-long success of The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, which sold over two million tickets and continually played to packed houses across the UK, Bill Kenwright Ltd began anew chapter in January with the launch of The Classic Thriller Theatre Company.
And Rehearsal For Murder, adapted for the stage by David Rogers, is its first production.
I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the evening, but for me it was a bit like watching a re-run of Murder She Wrote on the telly, when there’s nothing else on – mildly entertaining.
Which may be good enough for a tired old hack on a review ticket, but it’s not good enough for paying customers who are parting with their hard-earned cash.
Playwright Alex Dennison is left heartbroken when his fiancée and leading lady Monica Welles is found dead from an apparent suicide after the opening night of her stage debut.
On the anniversary of her death, Alex assembles the same cast and crew in the same theatre, for a reading of his new play.
But as the reading progresses, the play’s similarity to actual events becomes increasingly obvious, and it soon becomes clear that Alex believes Monica was murdered and he intends to uncover her killer.
Sounds hopeful, but for a thriller set in a disused theatre, it ironically lacked drama.
And if the setting was dusty and drab so, sadly, was much of the acting – with the notable exception of the elegant Anita Harris who brought class and polish to the role of producer Bella Lamb.
Despite the fact that we were seated near the front, I found it hard to hear a lot of the lines in the first half of the show, particularly from leading man Alex Ferns (Trevor in EastEnders), who frequently addressed the back of the stage rather than the audience. His accent was also rather uncertain.
I understand that MK Theatre is the first venue for the new cast of this show, and to be honest, it shows.
I hoped the show would pick up pace in the second half, but if anything it was slower, and the one piece of action involving gunshots and the lights sudenly going out was a fumbling affair.
The mystery did achieve its aim in that the unveiling of Monica’s murderer came as a complete surprise.
But it certainly felt like a long time getting there.
Hopefully, with more time for the cast to gel, the show will pick up pace and become more engaging.
But I do feel these issues should have been ironed out in rehearsal, and not on the opening night.