The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery

Date 14th November 2019
Society Alton Operatic & Dramatic Society
Venue Assembly Rooms, Alton
Type of Production Comedy
Director Pippa Mills


Author: Pauline Surrey

This is a play within a play where everything, but everything, goes wrong. Ham acting abounds, obviously, jokes are very corny, confusion and chaos reign. Oh, and a slide show, a quiz and a fashion show for good measure.

Alton Assembly Rooms make a splendid venue for AODS productions, with a spacious auditorium made more so by the mirrored back wall. A warm welcome was extended to all, as always.

There was an amusing set with pictures falling off the walls, tables repeatedly collapsing, spilling the chess set upon it over and over again. Even the walls caved in, and were replaced upside down. A gun, a wheelchair, some suitcases, an ashpan and brush, all had a role to play. Lighting too went wrong in all the right (or wrong?) places.

Costumes played an important role in this crazy play, as with only 5 actors playing multiple roles, rapid fire costume changes, and the possibilities of mishaps therewith, provided some of the humour.

The cast did their best, and obviously had a lot of fun, but I’m not convinced this play has stood the test of time. The gags are not particularly funny, time has moved on, and there are now many more plays where everything goes wrong.

The play is a mickey-take of VERY amateur dramatic societies. These Farndale Avenue folk miss their cues, stumble about, talk to each other in loud whispers, forget their lines, get them mixed up, and so on.

To play this successfully is a real challenge, whilst still getting the most out of the corny gags. Deliberately playing something wrong is not easy!

There was much visual humour in the piece. There were 5 or 6 ridiculous murder scenes, the funniest of which was when Regine the French maid set herself up for being pushed out of the window, and then fell in slow motion. There was a chair episode, when the whole cast had to move chairs about the stage between scenes. It was like a crazy musical chairs game gone overboard, they went, they were returned, they were sat upon, then removed to the side again, the actors getting more and more riled in the process.

Mrs Reece, the Chairperson of the Townswomen’s Guild was well played by Diane Bradley, who found the right mix of:  ‘I’m in charge here, I’ll get the best parts, I’ll also organise the Quiz and compere the fashion show’, with a total lack of self-awareness. She was tolerated, but no one dared to challenge her!

Gordon, alias Inspector O’Reilly in the play, was a good performance by Tom Baker. Gordon the stage manager had been roped in to take on this central role after another cast member was unable to perform, and Baker managed to play the cack-handed non-Thespian with a look of permanent desperation and surprise.

The rest of the team managed very well to create the necessary mayhem. One small niggle is that the diction was not always very clear, nor loud enough, and sometimes a bit gabbled, so we weren’t given the time to take in what particular quip had just been uttered, or piece of the plot was being prepared for.

But the audience, as well as the cast, enjoyed the fun, and left the theatre bemused and amused.