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

Love's sweet dream . . . with Epsom Salts, as Janet (Helen Stott) lines up Derek (Joshua Gallagher) for a one-way trip to the undertakers. Pictures: Alastair Barnsley


Grange Playhouse


First a warning: do not under any circumstances try to follow all the twists and turns of the plot in this intriguing murder(ish) mystery, or you will end up in A&E, somewhere around 327th in the queue on present estimates, needing the services of a competent orthopaedic surgeon to straighten you out.

It's a corker, but complicated doesn’t even come close. We have the usual murder mystery plot lines, pretty well all of them in fact, with pursuit of money, power and potential victims all lined up ready, traditionally set in an isolated country house. Then, of course, we have that A star of any respectable homicidal thriller, adultery.

Which brings the first real test of whether you are paying attention. With a cast of four runners a gambler would see that as six doubles which is pretty well what you get. Perm any two from four, not necessarily the same two nor in the same order, and you have a sort of sexual equal opportunities exercise – a guessing game of carnal musical chairs.

There was some sort of backstage kerfuffle and one of the actors, Corey Collin had to be replaced by understudy Paul Del Gatto, which delayed the start. An amateur company with an understudy . . . now that really is posh!

Del Gatto, who plays John, is an American with a strange mix of up market British and US drawl, and, one suspects overplays the drinking bit, so some of what he says is difficult to understand although there is no problem understanding John is having an affair with Janet.


Janet preparing husband Derek ready for her happy widowhood . . . or is she?

Janet and John, that takes you back, doesn't it - but back to the play.

John owns 51 percent of a successful company but does as little work as he can get away with, in reality, none, while a rather sex starved Janet is married to his partner (49 per cent) Derek who runs – in the loosest sense of the word – the company which seems to make oodles of money despite the pair of them.

The death of either would make the widow a valuable asset.

Derek is another with an affected accent, a little like Joe Pasquale with laryngitis talking through a surgical mask. So, you miss some of his words of wisdom. We won’t go into detail but there are a couple of (possible) murders before the dramatic arrival of Melinda, John’s wife, to add a twist we never even thought of, just in time for the interval. We say possible as . . . well practice makes perfect.

Now, all the audience discussion of who did what, and what will happen next, raised during the half time refreshments went out the window as the curtain goes up on Act II. First problem is when we discover the corpse we had seen shuffling off its mortal coil in time for the interval is wandering around large as life and Act I, with all its scene setting, was, in fact, a rehearsal of a play in a small theatre in New Haven, Connecticut with a cast desperately hoping for a Broadway run.

Derek (Joshua Gallagher), now speaking clearly, is in fact the writer and director while Janet (Helen Stott) is his soap star wife, who is financing the production. It is not a happy marital ship, so, we now have to decide if they are out to get each other or someone else in the cast - or someone is out to get them of course.

Melinda (Francesca Rees) is not really a professional actor, and it shows, with her arm waving, Victorian melodrama style presentation whenever she has to do the Thespian bits. She arrives on stage and drops her coat to reveal she is clad only in sexy, skimpy black underwear and she is unhappy about the impending nude scene – a fact which perked up roughly half the audience no end.

The director wants it in, and after stopping midway through her reluctant reveal, she wants it out – or, perhaps more accurately, not out in this case. A back facing the audience compromise is reached which leaves Melinda topless with some interesting contortions to, should we say, prevent her assets taking a bow.


Joshua Gallagher, now the director, explaining the finer details of theatrical life  to Francesca Rees's Melinda

The cast of the play within the play adds more grist to the rumour mill about who is going to do what to who with stage romances not reflected in real life and real life giving a whole new stageful of possibilities. With so many plots flying around it all starts to descend into chaos, which means Rod Bissett, the director of the real play (possibly – who knows by this point) bounces on stage to sort it out.

A bit like The Mousetrap we, the audience, are sworn to secrecy, so that is as much as can be revealed upon pain of death, which is just as well as anyone heading home wandering off into the night wondering where summer has gone, will probably still be wondering what has happened and who did what to whom . . . or did they.

What we can say is that it is a delicious night of fun, a comedy thriller with three deaths - one victim even managing to die twice!  That's persistence for you.

There are some wonderful lines, double, and sometimes not even bothering with double, entendres, some witty lines and sometimes lines and scenes sexually charged in a tongue in cheek sort of way – not necessarily the same tongue or indeed same cheek at any given moment.

Each time you think you are getting a handle on things, the plot veers off in another direction, leaving you, Don Quixote like, tilting at windmills. And to add a bit more confusion poor old Crawley, whose only claim to fame is that it is handy for Gatwick, seems to be Janet’s barometer of high fashion . . . that girl should get out more.

So, what you have is not so much a murder mystery as four murder mysteries with every member of cast a target by somebody for something depending upon which play they are in at the time, after all there is Act I, and Act II and then, the play we are watching . . . or are we. And we have three different causes of death to play with if we count the trick stage knife.

It is an intriguing plot from Tony award winning writer, singer, songwriter, Cheshire born Rupert Holmes, clever, witty and one which will keep you guessing even after the final bows. If you are into murder mysteries and thrillers then this is right up your street, or district in this case as there are an awful lot of streets to walk down.

Director Bissett designed the set with Colin Mears and Stan Vigurs responsible, respectively, for sound – a bit of nostalgia for Carpenters’s fans there – and lighting with a bit of flash, bang wallop thrown in.

Incidentally Corey Collin, a genuine American, whose part was played by the understudy, did appear at the end of the performance, having recovered from his indisposition earlier – if it really was him. Believe nothing is the advice.

People will be dying, or not dying, depending upon which bit of the play they are in to 23-09-23.

Roger Clarke


Grange Players

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