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

something headsomethings afoot

Something’s Afoot

Grange Players

Grange Playhouse, Walsall


SO what if Agatha Christie had written a musical? Perhaps not, but Grange have found an entertaining piece of nonsense which owes every song and its ever mounting body count to the Queen of Crime in Something’s Afoot.

If you are looking for suspects for this 1976 musical whodunit then look no further than And then there were none, Christie’s tale of guests lured to a remote island where they are bumped off in gruesome ways, one by one.

In the musical comedy version – death of course being the last laugh – six guests are lured to Lord Dudley Rancour’s isolated estate, each believing they are to be the only guest but are happy to find it appears to be a weekend country house party instead, which sees them breaking into the first big number, A marvelous weekend.

It becomes less marvelous when it is announced a terrible electrical storm is approaching, rising water has cut off the causeway to the mainland and just to ensure isolation is complete the telephonic speaking apparatuses are not working.

Lord Rancour declines to make an appearance to his guests by dint of the fact he has become the late Lord Rancour between curtain up and first musical number. A bullet through the brain tends to do that for you.

But that is for later as the guests are welcomed by the estate staff, butler Clive, played straight-laced by Ray Lawrence, who we will mention first as, alas, he will not be with us too long, the maid Lettie played by a bubbly Elena Serafinas and Flint the caretaker, whose hands try to take care of anything female, played with flat-capped pragmatism by Gary Pritchard.

Flint and Lettie have their own fun knees-up to come when the caretaker confides in the maid he has a teeny dinghy in The dinghy song – and no it is not a euphemism.

As for the guests there is Hope the ingénue character so loved in 1930’s plays and films, a time when the drama is set – and full marks for  costumes (Rosemary Manjunath) and set design (Dexter Whitehead and Tony Groves) for a wonderful feel of period authenticity.

Hope, our sweet innocent young thing, is played by Phebe Jackson, teaming up with director Whitehead again after her exceptional performance as Maria in West Side Story at Sutton Arts. She really does have a wonderful soprano to go with her considerable acting talent and looked every inch the society belle of the ball or in this case, country pileGeoffrey and Hope, in a sheer, white evening gown and French pleat hairstyle.

Her voice is the standout one of the show and her solo You fell out of the sky is beautifully sung  . . . around the chandelier . . . don’t ask.

Robbie Newton as Geoffrey and Phebe Jackson as Hope

Tomas Frater brings both comedy and a menace to the role of Nigel, nephew of Lord Rancour, and the black sheep of the family. He is a prime suspect as he appears to be the sole heir to the Rancour fortune as he happily sings I know what I’m looking for in his search to confirm his fortune in the missing will.

Meanwhile it is good to have medical assistance standing by with a murderer on the loose and  Whitehead, who had to step in at the last minute, adds gravitas to the role of Dr Grayburn, who, if nothing else, would have been useful for signing death certificates had he not needed someone to sign his own hardly before his bags were unpacked.

Suzy Donnely is the rather nervous Lady Manley Prowe with a Del Boy-like penchant for chucking in, or should that jetant in, French phrases for effect, effect of what only she knows and she also knows she carries a terrible secret, is desperate for money and has a motive to kill the host.

But what’s that among friends and she manages a very funny duet in The man with the ginger moustache with another stock Christie character, the old Colonial officer, in this case Col Gilweather, played with stiff upper lip military bluster by Andy Jones, which leaves Jenny Gough as the amateur sleuth, the Miss Marplesque Miss Tweed who never lets the facts get in the way of a good deduction.

She manages to accuse pretty well everyone – wrongly - before finding herself on the rather unfortunate end of an unexpected clue but not before she tells us in song that I owe it all to Agatha Christie in a trio with Hope and Geoffrey and that popular musical theatre device, three umbrellas – a sort of dying in the rain number.

Into this rapidly diminishing mélange of society one would normally expect an unexpected mysterious stranger, preferable foreign, plucked from the pages oNigelf the Christie book of stock characters, to pop up, stranded by inclement weather, but I suppose a student has to do in these austere times, a student in the shape of Robbie Newton as the tall, dark and dashing Geoffrey who, after being nominated and then dismissed as the main suspect, falls hopelessly for Hope and she for him and we get their duets I don’t know why I trust you and the finale number New Day.

Sadly it is more of a finality than a finale as the entire cast have exited life left before the curtain call as we discover the reason for a Midsomer Murders level of death toll which works out at about one every 10 minutes over the two hours or so – everyone survives the interval.

Tomas Frater as the Rancour bad boy Nigel - Frater incidentally was also responsible for the lighting design.

Like And then there were none the secret is revealed by a gramophone (ask a grandad if unsure what that is) as we are left to reflect . . . left to reflect . . .left to reflect . . .

Dexter Whitehead is making quite a name for himself in amateur circles and has linked up again with Tom Brookes who was musical director for West Side Story to produce an entertaining musical with some lovely comic touches and some pleasing and quite technical choreography from Emma Allen. A pat on the back as well to Leo Alexander and sound and Rhinanan Kimberley on lights who had a lot of cues to contend with.

The musical from James McDonald, David Vos and Robert Gerlach, is more than 40 years old , opening in 1972 in Atlanta with short runs on Broadway in 1976 and the West End the following year and, these days, strangely, it seems more popular in North America than here which is a pity.

It is great fun with plenty of laughs as we work our way through the cast with nine creative murders, and, to be fair to the killer, one unfortunate accident, and although it never manages a showstopper of a musical number the songs are pleasant, lively and at times witty providing a pastiche of stock musical theatre numbers.

All in all a thoroughly entertaining evening with a production that despite its age appears fresh as a daisy and one that will be unknown and a pleasant and welcome surprise for pretty well everyone who sees it. To 26-09-15

Roger Clarke


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