Review: Murder Village at Arts House17 September 2018
It’s a good sign when an hour-long show feels like ten minutes, and when the seemingly worst thing about a show is that it’s too short. That is the case with Murder Village, a comedic riff on Agatha Christie mysteries playing at Arts House as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival until the 21st of September.
The setup is as simple as the staging (one piano, one seat, and one folding screen). Over the course of an hour, an elderly sleuth named Miss Marmalade accompanies the only (and incompetent) cop in a sleepy British town called Murder Village to solve an unimaginable crime (which is murder, hence the name). Along the way, four suspicious characters introduce themselves to the audience, and to each other. It should be noted, at this point, that the entire show is improvised, and that the characters might change every night.
The plot is plucked out of thin air; the characters’ contrivances are invented on the spot, and it’s audience voting that determines the victim and culprit. And while improvised comedy can be grim if it doesn’t land, it can be exhilarating when it’s working, with the constant fear (and thrill) that things might go off the rails at any second. Murder Village is not perfect in that regard, but it lands much more often than not, and with an inherently risky concept such as this, that’s more than good enough.
This, of course, comes down to the improvisers on stage, who hail from The Big HOO-HAH! in Melbourne. Particularly notable talents on stage for this showing included Lliam Amor as an immediately charismatic, if completely bumbling drunkard town doctor (with an impressively versatile voice) and Sophie Kneebone as the social committee chair-cum-murderer (for the night) Theophania Dalrymple. The improvised music, by an adept Jaron Why, adds significantly to the atmosphere and doesn’t detract from the experience. But it cannot be stressed enough: all seven talents on stage bring considerable skill, work well together as an ensemble, and were successful in their own right.
Most importantly, though, Murder Village refuses to take itself so seriously as to sap the character from the piece. The show proceeds with a self-awareness that never becomes too coy to be enjoyable, and constantly keeps its central goal—the light ribbing and sending-up of the archetypal Christie mystery—at its heart. This is where the show really shines, and where the imperfections melt away. Actors do run over each other’s lines, and the post-murder scenes could do with more elaboration (although this may be because Miss Marmalade solved the crime at a lightning pace during this showing), but does any of that really matter when the British accents are thick and ridiculous, the scenarios and relationships outlandish, and the laughs quick and easy?
The answer, of course, is no. The lightness of the material, the talent on stage, and the apparent joy throughout make this show thoroughly enjoyable. It makes you want more than an hour. And when it’s over, and you feel only ten minutes older, you’ll think that’s the worst thing of all.
Also, the culprit I voted for ended up being the culprit, and that was pretty exciting.