Murdered to Death

Date 5th October 2023
Society Compton Little Theatre
Venue Compton Village Hall
Type of Production Play
Director` Mandy Scully
Written By Peter Gordon

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Author: Pauline Surrey

This very amusing Agatha Christie spoof, complete with Miss Maple, set in the drawing room of a country house in the 1930s, was Compton Little Theatre’s choice for this year’s Dinner Drama.  A cast of ten, a weekend house party, and a body or two. We were in for a treat! This very popular annual event played to packed houses. The village hall housed about 10 long tables, all very attractively set, and labelled with the name of a 1930s film star, ours was Rita Hayworth. There were also fine art deco posters around the walls, each with the name of one of the suspects on it with a question mark. A nice touch. A delicious cold meal was served, with pudding in the interval, and of course as the company was delightful, the buzz of jolly conversation filled the hall. Compton Little Theatre does this SO well! It’s always a delight.

The attractively designed Art Deco programme was placed on the tables and gave us all the information we needed.

There was some fine furniture dotted about the stage to create the attractive drawing room, and many intriguing paintings on the walls, a couple of which were important for the plot. A pleasant pastoral scene was painted as the view from the window. CLT is lucky to have excellent set designers and painters. The most important prop was the pistol, of course, a fabulous aspidistra attracted the eye, and a pair of crutches also played a role. Lighting and sound were both very effective throughout, with some very ominous music in places.

The ladies’ costumes were super, very elegant gowns or day dresses. Their hairstyles were also fascinating and elegant. Miss Maple, though, who was not one of the invited guests, was frumpy by comparison, as was only right for she was not dressed for the occasion. The Major was clad in tweeds, Pierre was the epitome of French style.

This play had all the elements of a good whodunnit with great characters, all of whom, except Miss Maple and the two police officers, had an adequate motive for the murder of Mildred, the lady of the house. Dorothy, the victim’s niece, nicely played by Amy Aiello, was to benefit from the will, though she seemed genuinely fond of her somewhat bossy Aunt Mildred, once again well played by Rachel Jenner. Bunting, the manservant, was simply odd and rather alarming, very loud, somewhat dim, and possibly even insubordinate! Robin Matthews clearly relished playing this larger-than-life role, and did so delightfully.

Stuffy Major, Charles, Mildred’s reluctant love interest, provided Noel Ruddy with the opportunity to give a fine character performance. Neat hair, neat moustache, everything about the Major suggested the British stiff upper lip brigade. It was delightful the way he persisted in calling his glamorous wife Margaret ‘old girl’, much to her obvious disgust. The Major also stood to benefit from the will if Dorothy predeceased him.

Gillian Walker excelled as the elegant, confident Margaret, the kind of wife some men might be slightly nervous about being married to. The Major certainly seemed so! She was totally believable, a super performance.

All praise must be given to Steven Webb, who played the French art dealer Pierre with great sophistication and elan, and with the most wonderful French accent, which he kept up throughout. That cannot have been easy, but he made it seem so.

Fiona Gallacher whisked onto the stage, the last of the guests, in a flurry of fur and elegant gown, bedecked with jewellery, to play the youngest of the guests, Elizabeth. She proceeded to cruelly criticise the fashion sense of poor Dorothy (who I thought looked fabulous in her cream 1920s dress, but I guess in the 1930s it looked rather dated to the sophisticated Elizabeth.)

While the guests were preparing for dinner, Miss Maple (Jayne Atkinson) popped by, obviously hoping to be invited to join Mildred and her party for dinner. The reluctant Mildred was more or less forced to ask her to stay.  She was a wily old bird, and had come complete with her knitting, and became the voice of common sense, aiding poor PC Thomkins in his attempts to try to make the hopeless Inspector Pratt follow a sensible approach to solving the crime (later crimes). We all felt tremendous sympathy for PC Thomkins, and Ian Creese was great in this role, as the perplexed, bemused yet sensible police officer, who had to keep calm and carry on, and follow the orders of the crazy Pratt.

Well, what can we say about Inspector (or was he only Sergeant?) Pratt?  He bumbled about the stage, chasing red herrings, getting his words all mixed up, breaking things, shooting his constable in the foot, and later in the other one too. He was total chaos, the stuff of nightmares! It must be tricky to play such a complete blockhead, but Olly Clifford pulled it off!

There was, of course, a twist or two in the plot, and the denouement took us all by surprise. The play was a good choice for Compton’s Dinner Drama, for it was light-hearted, gripping, amusing, everyone loves a good whodunnit. That it was also well cast, well performed by a super team, well directed and well designed is actually what we have come to expect from Compton Little Theatre. We all left with a smile on our faces – it was a great evening’s fun.