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


Grange Players

Grange Playhouse, Walsall


Miles Tredinnick’s 1995 murder spoof is a sort of Agatha Christie meets Ben Travers affair with a group of characters on the borderline of sanity and a plot with more twists and turns than a drunken pig in a gale.

We have accountant David Woods, played by Rob Meehan, who has just returned from spending six weeks in Paris, one hopes starving in a garret in true artistic style, writing his latest book.

Not that he is a writer mind – his previous two thrillers with titles as catchy as an actuarial report, having failed to thrill any publisher – but he has literary aspirations . . . and a typewriter bought on eBay that once, possibly, belonged to someone who worked, possibly, in Agatha Christie’s garden . . . maybe.

On his return he has picked up the wrong suitcase which brings its owner, South African Hannah Van Lee, into the plot, a traveller played with a hint of a Springbok twang by Helen Freebury. She is from Umzimvubu – a place which does exist, and, you suspect, was chosen by Mr Tredinnick for the possible laughs it might gain at an actor’s attempts to pronounce it – nearby Durban not having the same comic potential. 

Hannah has a dark secret, discovered by Woods, and that gives him a hold over her which is the catalyst for a murderfest with a body count that makes Midsomer Murders quite pedestrian by comparison.

Mind you, in Midsomer, the dead usually stay that way, here . . . nothing is that cut and dried. 

sarah men

Louise Farmer's Sarah with the two men in her life, Carl Horton, left, as Robert and husband David played by Rob Meehan

You see David’s wife is Sarah Seeton, sexy temptress of national treasure status, star of Doctors and Nurses and soap royalty: she and hubby David are no longer in the star cross’d lovers stage – they are now more just cross. Marriage can do that. Now that is all well and good apart from the minor detail that our mild-mannered accountant’s bottom line doesn’t actually include his wife anymore. Her value is as a sort of write off . . . a national buried treasure in this case.

Louise Farmer gives her a soap diva’s air, flouncing around with a Thespian’s enunciation and a glass permanently filled with vodka – the breakfast of the stars . . . well Oliver Reed at any rate.

Her studio organised car has broken down so picking her up, in what appears to be more ways than one, is Wood’s brother Robert, played by Carl Horton, another actor in the soap, who is about to be killed off in the next day’s shooting – an appropriate word in the circumstances - following a heinous crime – at least as far as soap stars are concerned – revealed in the Sunday papers.

Whether he is having an affair with Sarah or blames her for tipping off the newspapers about his . . . unfortunate faux pas at the health spa resulting in his death on his wedding day in Doctors and Nurses, we never really know – largely because he’s rather good at death scenes, especially the last one; very realistic down to not even breathing.

Into this love hate quadrangle comes Inspector Root, played in a slightly shambling, good natured fashion by Les Wilkes. Root, we discover, has a passion for sailing and a rather loose grasp of morality – having won the star prize by dubious means – i.e. fixed - at last year’s charity event where Sarah was the star guest.

Completing this happy band, confusing everyone and generally getting in the way, we have Lynne Young in a wonderful performance as caretaker/handyman Mrs Beck. Mrs Beck has a propensity for pilfering anything not nailed down in the Woods’ flat, has a bad back which she reminds everyone at the slightest whiff or an opportunity and, since her husband died – he  probably just gave up - has been on the hunt for a man to share her fish suppers, which has a hint of euphemism about it.


Adding to the twists we have Helen Freebury as reluctant camera operator Hannah Van Lee, left, and Les Wilkes as Insp Root with professional busy body Mrs Beck  - with her bad back - played by Lynne Young

She is a busy body supreme noting every cough and snort and a star witness for the prosecution, or at least Insp Root.

Now into this suburban sextet we have two lots of blackmail, at least one conspiracy to murder, a bent copper and five murders, with four bodies – the result of one victim being murdered twice - and that's not counting rehearsals.

The opening act sets out the scene introducing characters and adding layers of plot which are shuffled and added to after the break as we drift from thriller to farce with Woods becoming antagonistic heading towards hysteria, his voice louder and higher as panic sets in – so much so he might as well have a neon sign flashing guilty above his head.

Finally, with Miss Van Lee back in the picture – remember her - we have Root, on his last day as a copper, determined to see justice done for poor Sarah, or, to be more accurate, to get Root’s monetarised form of justice paid for by her husband – one assumes in used notes with non-consecutive serial numbers – before he hangs up his truncheon and heads off to his new, expensive boat.

And amid all the mayhem there is time for one final twist, and one you probably did not see coming, to bring the curtain down.

This is that rare beast for a long time critic, a play I haven’t come across before, which grabs interest from the start. Opening night saw a strong first act, with plenty of laughs among the scene setting, although the second half saw some hesitation creep in and a little too much angst at times –  but that usually vanishes with first night out of the way.

And that being the case the result will be a solid entertaining play with a clever script which will have you both chuckling and chasing whole shoals of red herrings.

Joe Young and director Chris Waters have come up a lovely set design, including a dumb waiter – large enough to actually fit a dumb waiter . . . or someone of similar size . . . while Waters has kept things moving along at a decent pace giving each twist in the plot a chance to take root with the audience before digging it up and planting something different to keep them on their toes.

Grange will be twisting and turning, with plenty of laughs and a fair old number of cadavers to 30-11-19.

Roger Clarke


The play opens to the strains of Henry Hall’s 1932 recording of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic, sung by Val Rosing, a recurring musical theme, becoming more sinister, more edgy and disturbing as the play goes on. The original, incidentally, because of the quality of the recording and its huge tonal range, was used by BBC radio engineers up until well into the 1960s to calibrate equipment. 

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