Farndale Avenue...Murder Mystery

Date 27th June 2017
Society Jewish Theatre Group Manchester
Venue Whitefield Garrick
Type of Production Play
Director Robert Margolis


Author: Kevin Proctor

A play about a play that goes wrong. This is just one of a series of plays about plays that go wrong which no doubt provided the prototype for the later and much more elaborate series of plays; ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ and ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’.

This play that goes wrong requires a cast of five to frolic in a multitude of roles. Each of the actor’s primary character is a member of the fictitious Farndale Avenue Amateur Dramatics Group (which, ironically, does only consists of five members). We see these members, who are all send ups of stereotypical am dram fanatics, present a traditional Agatha Christie style whodunit which is evidently a stretch too far for them as they, hilariously, attempt to cover up every glitch of their production (of which there are plenty) and carry on regardless as everything that possibly could go wrong, does!     

In principle, the idea for these plays are quite genius though I must admit that after about ten minutes it becomes clear that this is all we’re going to get for the duration, it’s not really anything more than a collection of hiccups with ‘egg on their face’ moments – one after the other, almost predicting what the next mishap will be.

The logistics of the proceedings are what makes the boldest impressions with the timing, the pace and military precision being key to its success. Just setting up the props table would no doubt have been an ordeal alone!

This troupe delivered the - I’m an actor, playing a not very good actor, in a not very good play with not a very good group - with gusto and with the timing and stage craft trickery made the production and the performances a pleasure to value.

With the delivery from these actors, it was rather difficult at times to differentiate when the actors were speaking to each other, saying the lines an audience aren’t supposed to hear, and when the actors were delivering the lines of the play within the play. More subtlety, or to put a lid on the ‘ham’ to differentiate the two would have not only added yet another layer to the humour it would have eliminated the occasional confusing moment.

Director, Robert Margolis, created a show so amateurish and slick. There is an inherent danger in plays such as the Farndale series for the production to become somewhat self-indulgent with the cast adding bits or milking every mishap until the running time rivals an uncut Hamlet, but Robert keeps it down to a respectable length and doesn’t allow it to over egg.  

The script is not the most original, there are others which are in a similar vein such as ‘Noises Off’ and (as mentioned above) ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ series, but they’re fun and we all enjoy a laugh. An audience for such plays are easy to find as they’re written for amateurs to perform to an audience made up of am-drammers.    

This quintet were indeed working as one, a tight ensemble who needed to work closely together from day one of rehearsals in order to present justice to such a production. The bond of trust and efficiency was evident between the cast making it incredibly unfair for me to single out any one performer over another as each one brought something of their own to the production and as I’ve said, what’s more important was how they worked as a tight crew of artists which was gratifying to behold which yanked the presentation of something that could be rather tiresome and over indulgent into another league.

Playing in one of these productions is not as straightforward as one may perceive at first glance, you don’t get that good at being bad without a lot of practice!