"Murder at Checkmate Manor"

October 2009

"The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate T.G. Dramatic Society Murder Mystery" entitled "Murder at Checkmate Manor"
Click here for photos of this production
Who Dunnit?  MAD Dunnit (again)!

What a romp this murder mystery was to be sure.  Everything that could go wrong did go wrong; from collapsing sets and furniture to wrong entries, from incorrect sound effects to “forgotten” lines.  Do, please, stop me from attending any further productions of the Farndale Avenue Housing Estate T.G. Dramatic Society; they couldn't be worse, even if they tried!

The four ladies, in a cast of five, played so many roles it was difficult to keep up with them all.  Only Chris Parker, playing Inspector O’Reilly, a Sherlock Holmes-like character, complete with deerstalker hat and cape, was consistent as the detective.  His portrayal of a lovesick swain, opposite Dawn Knight, with both of them in ‘pain’ was masterly.  Even they couldn’t help laughing at themselves.

A novel feature of this production was a Joyce Grenfell’ish lady, Mrs Reece, introducing the two acts and explaining the blatantly obvious in great detail to the audience.  A slightly frumpish and gangly Debbie Price - What?  No!  Yes!  Debbie Price was superb in this, as she was later in other roles, the most notable of which was that of a French maid, straight from ‘Allo, ‘Allo!  Despite the many deliberate hiccups, both on and off stage, the pace was brisk, dialogue timing well judged - as it must be for comedy, and the longer pregnant pauses controlled to good effect.

The diverse roles of Debbie, already mentioned, Ruth Barriskill, Dawn Knight and Helen Lawrey ranged from the Lady of the House and daughter, American vamp to solicitor; a couple of Old Maids and sundry others, to say nothing of a fashion show, à la 20s/30s.  The wardrobe mistress was obviously challenged by all this, but Carolyn Licence responded magnificently with a wonderful array of costumes.  The backstage crew also responded well, providing the set, props, sound and lighting effects to their customary high standards.  The regularly collapsing table, on cue, really got me guessing.

Congratulations to the director Pat Woodison, who provided us with a wonderful mix of pathos (the lovers), near slapstick (the maid exiting via the window), bathos, comedy and drama too, of course.  Friday night was a full house and responded well to both the action and also the somewhat risqué dialogue.  One elderly gentleman did enquire during the interval if the production was under rehearsed, as so much seemed to be going wrong!  Saturday was not so full and a bit quieter, which was a shame.  All in all it was a most enjoyable evening out.

All on stage did very well indeed, with their multitude of costume changes, some in very rapid succession.  But for me the Best Actress award goes to Ruth Barriskill in her various roles, as butler, poisoned American (cameo only), cat walk model and Colonel King, Lady Bishop’s brother-in-law.

Oh!  Who Dunnit?  The butler of course, isn’t that always the case?

John Bailey

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