Inspector Drake and The Black Widow

The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


Murder is a serous business . . . you would think. In writer David Tristram’s hands, however, it’s a perfect vehicle for a series of puns and surreal sight gags that just keep on coming from start to finish in this ingenious, off the wall whodunit.

Plot wise, it kind of follows the rules expected from the genre. There has been a murder. A world renowned, if somewhat unorthodox, detective is brought in to solve the case, aided/hindered by his not always on the money sidekick.

An assortment of possible suspects come and go (though tellingly never appear onstage at the same time). More people get bumped off along the way. Even the cat and a passing tortoise aren’t spared.

Think, if you can, of a cross between And Then There Were None, Dixon of Dock Green, Inspector Clouseau . . . even Airplane and you are somewhere near the mark here.

Its all wonderfully silly and, at times, plain surreal as the story reveals more twists than a vandalised swing and a host of diverse female characters that bear more than a passing resemblance to each other.

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Alan Birch as Insp Drake, Gill Jordan as everyone else and Steve Witney as the hapless, witless sergeant

Among the generous supply of quips and one liners, there are plenty of comedy props and visual gags to keep the laughs coming., Tristram knows that it’s not just about what characters say and how they say it, it’s also about what they do and how they do it. The balance here is spot on.

In a cast reunited from the original ‘ Inspector Drake’ movie, Alan Birch gives Drake a nice air of exasperation as he struggles to take the case forward , due largely to the sheer inaptitude of his assistant, played with real punchy precision by Steve Witney.

Gill Jordan - or rather her alter ego Doreen Tipton – basically plays the entire ensemble cast, giving her carte blanche to do what she does well – i.e. create a range of very different characters. A gift of a role for a chameleon performer like Jordan who clearly revels in the challenge.

A simple set and musical under-scoring provides suitable backing for the comings and goings of a busy storyline.

Tight and funny writing mixed with strong and likable performances throughout.

With just one venue left (Bridgnorth Nov 20–23), the small Midlands tour is coming to an end. Catch it before somebody else gets murdered!

Tom Roberts


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