Where to start? The latest production from Banbury
Cross Players is Anthony Shaffer’s ‘Whodunnit’ a spoofMurder Mystery written in the 1970’s but based on
typical 1930’s dramas that used to be standard fare for am dram groups nationwide.
It’s a roller coaster of a play, twisting and turning at
every opportunity with bluffs, double bluffs, blackmail,
murder and disguises. With new plots and dead ends
abounding from almost every line, this drama has it all
and is adeptly performed by this talented group.
The set, the library of Orcas Champflower Manor, was magnificent, designed by Peter Bloor and built to their
usual professional standard by his able team.
The show opens with a disembodied voice announcing
to an eager audience that a murder is to be committed and a series of clues will present themselves during the course of the performance. Following these clues will
lead them to the identity of the killer.
One by one an assortment of dinner guests arrive at theManor supposedly invited by the absent wife of house
owner and lawyer Silas Bazeby, played by John
McCormick, who did look a little uncomfortable in his
role but in fairness this was the first night of the run.
Nik Lester’s interpretation of butler Archibald Perkins
was the sort of part most actors would kill for. The
character is a mix of ineptitude and comedy with a
sinister element throw in when we learn that he had
been a gangster in a previous career. Nik Lester coped well and fully justified this plum role.
We learn of the butler’s misdemeanours from an oily
Levantine by the name of Andreas Capodistriou played by Philip Fine. Philip lived up to his name playing this
slippery character who had the ’goods’ on all the guests and seemed to have a thriving blackmail business. He was obviously not long for this world and was
despatched rather messily at the end of the first act by person or persons unknown.
Here the level of the production dipped a bit when the
severed head of the victim appeared to roll on stage but we could still see the original appendage on the
shoulders of said victim. Some blood would have been
an asset too, not wishing to be grisly you understand,
but the plot did mention the copious amount of the
liquid at a later stage in the proceedings, but there
wasn’t any, alas.
Let’s press on. Other dinner guests make their entranceAn old sea dog by the name of Rear Admiral
Knatchbull, very well played by Andy Allen, followed by Patricia Lee as Lady Charlotte Tremurrain, a dotty
aristocrat who also had a bit of a past. The black sheepRoger Dashwell skilfully played by Peter Griffiths and
whose Australian accent I thought fair dinkum. Roger’s
fiancé was by his side, Lavinia Hargreaves, ‘a sweet
young thing’ who stole the performance for me. A
professional and totally convincing characterisation by
Tara Lacey that wouldn’t have been out of place in the West End I can tell you.
The final diner was an eccentric archaeologist by the
name of Edith Runcible again well played by Ann
Westcott and who I had, wrongly, down as the killer.
The second act opened after the dastardly deed and
enter our hero Scotland Yard Detective, Chief Inspector Bowden. Tim Manning obviously enjoyed this part and
rightly so. He was extremely capable in this large part
indeed most of the parts were sizable and the cast
should be commended for the dearth of prompts
incurred especially on this opening night.
Bowden’s sidekick, Sergeant Standish the bumbling
copper, was very well managed by Jem Turner. Shame
the uniform didn’t carry the sergeant’s stripes but
nevertheless Jem was excellent as the likeable but
inept foil for his Chief Inspector.
The play progressed at a pace and nothing was what it seemed. The whole scenario was ripped apart and new assessments had to be made as to who the murderer
was. All the classic elements of a 1930’s country housemurder are featured in this play including thunder and
lightning and eerie music. Full marks here to Maestros John Hicks and Linda Shaw on lighting with Jason
Bennett and Mark Neale on sound.
By now the Chief Inspector was completely confused
along with the rest of us. He resigns the case only to
return a little later having reconsidered the evidence andaccuses the killer who soon admits their guilt and
heads for the exit only to be thwarted and handcuffed byour favourite Bobby, Sergeant Standish. Hurrah.
Whoever in the BCP came up with the idea of producing
this play should be commended. It’s a cracker, well
done to all concerned.