Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Agatha Crusty and the Village Hall Murders

Hall Green Little Theatre


Derek Webb’s murder mystery spoof has some lovely lines as crime novelist Agatha Crusty – pronounced Croostay, as in Bucket as Hyacinth might say – arrives to stay with her sister-in-law and finds herself in the midst of a killing spree.

Indeed the bodies are piling up so thick and fast one wonders if the village of Chortelby is an overspill for Midsomer, the TV murder capital of the world.

First to go is Wendy, who plunged down the stairs and broke her neck, just before the play opens – which saves finding any one to play her part of course – then Barry is found wellies up in a water butt behind the church hall just after we start, gone before he can even make an appearance.

And then we discover Maisie Grimm the cleaner, sorry Cleaning, Sanitation and Hygiene Operative, is still mourning the loss of her husband who recently accidentally blasted himself into the hereafter while cleaning his shotgun – and all three were members of the church hall committee.


Dancing clean: Debbie Donnelly as Maisie. Pictures:  Roy Palmer

That is just the start. As the night goes on we lose Tina, who has a fine voice, we are told, and who we hear, briefly, but never see, then Mr Gascoigne who takes the art class who we see briefly but never hear as his body falls out of a cupboard and Sebastian, the church hall panto director, whose script is the death of him, who we know only by reputation.

So thank heaven for Isabella the pub landlady played in a motherly down to earth way by Kathryn Fisher who we not only see and hear but get to know a little before she joins the body count. It is nice to be acquainted with a victim at last.

And all our dead are on the committee or connected to the hall . . . which leaves us with suspects, the committee survivors. There is Harry Knott the caretaker, cynical, congenitally unhelpful and with a jaundiced and unsympathetic view of life, and some very funny lines from the flat-capped, brown coated Kelvin McCardle.

Then there is Alice, played by Ellie Holly, Agatha’s sister-in-law, who is sort of ordinary and normal, pleasant and seemingly well liked – which is very suspicious amongst this lot –and in charge is super-efficient Eleanor, the committee chairman, a nicely balanced performance from Carol Ashby, who has the hots for the vicar, the Rev Toby Bishop played by Daniel Robert Beaton, an actor who grows in stature with each appearance after coming up  through the youth theatre.

He added some lovely touches to his performance as a sort of sexually repressed reverend happily reading 50 Shades of Grey and eagerly turning up for the art life classes brushes at the ready.

He has the hots, or by the second act, sadly, that becomes had the hots, for Tina, although Mandy the nude model, played by Megan Mack, raises his interest for a while before Eleanor cancels the class due to the non-appearance of Mr Gascoigne who duly then appears, dead on time, so to speak.

Debbie Donnelly gives is a lovely performance as Maisie the Welsh cleaner etc. with a nice cleaning dance thrown in. Her visual aids during Agatha Crusty’s revelations are a comic delight.

Twigg and Agatha

DI Twigg (Jon Richardson) tries to follow as Agatha Crusty (Katherine Williams) explains her theories on the murders

Then there is, are, who knows, Olivia and Oliver Truscott Pratt, the world’s first identical twins of different sexes, unless of course they are one and the same, all cleverly played by Al Mcaughey. Olivia has a bit of a temper while Oliver is never seen without his shotgun and a bloodstained bag full of dead animals. Even accounting for the fact it is the same bloke in a quick change of costumes, they are still weird upper class toffs and toffesses.

Which brings us down to the long arm of the law starting with PC Lockett, played by Geoff Nunney, the cousin of Harry and one of the vertically challenged in the village panto, Snow White and the seven vertically challenged people.

And, leading, in its loosest interpretation, the investigation is Det Insp Twigg, played by hglt regular Jon Richardson, a policeman for whom the description incompetent would be regarded as a complement. Richardson gives him a pompous air of confident calamity as he spreads confusion like a blanket over everything around him.

He picks up on clues that are not there, takes words literally or out of context, mangles the Queen’s English, leads inquiries down blind alleys and when Agatha reveals her theories he jumps on her success like a drowning man on a lifebelt – claiming her results as her own. One thing that he cannot be accused off though, is a lack of hats and overcoats in a nice comic touch with a running joke.


Harry Knott, (Kelvin McCardle) tries his hand at modelling ready for the art class

And finally we have our heroine Agatha, played with a confident air by Katherine Williams, who makes some shrewd observations as she makes sense of the chaos around her. Among the dead with have cheapskates, womanisers and people who were universally disliked – which all adds to the list of motives and suspects, as well as stories of buried Viking silver to muddy the waters even further.

There are some wonderfully funny lines with confusion reigning time after time with endless puns and plays on words, names such as Knott or a vicar called Bishop are just a start, but behind it all there is actually a murder mystery, a plot which, with perhaps less deaths and less elaborate demises, might well stand alone as a serious thriller.

As a play there are plenty of laughs though and director Paul Holtom has not only kept everything moving at a good pace but has slipped in plenty of jokes with the music between scenes – scene changes excellently carried out by the two stage crew incidentally.

Thus we had Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven, Z-Cars, Dixon of Dock Green, Hi-Ho, Antiques Roadshow, Mastermind, Gimme a Man after Midnight for frustrated Maisie, and even that Charles Penrose classic, The Laughing Policeman.

The timing of the laugh lines by the cast was excellent although the second act gained a few prompts and lost a little momentum – second acts often suffer less rehearsal time than firsts - but experience says that will be a thing of the past now first night is out of the way, which will leave a well-paced and highly amusing whodunit with laughs. To 17-06-17

Roger Clarke


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