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

A merry mystery to one and all

Job hunters: Martin Cooper (Matt Fearnley), Dan Morris (Martin Anthony Games), Jackie Donaldson (Sally Metcalfe) and Ivy Wellington (Fran Leighton). Could one be a victim? Could one be a killer?

Interview for Murder

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Worcester Arts Workshop


THE well-trodden formula of Swan Theatre Amateur Company’s festive murder mystery has become somewhat of a Christmas tradition.

Now in its 11th year, with each play written by Angela Lanyon, the idea is simple,

The first act sets the scene leading to a moment of high drama with screams and cries offstage, which we all know means that one of the characters is now a much lamented, deceased dramatis persona – and one member of the cast can spend the second act in the bar.

During the interval the audience, enjoying the supper part of the performance, have to work out who has been murdered, who did the killing, what was the motive and how was the unfortunate cast member dispatched?

Entry forms are filled in, collected and the person who manages to come closest wins a prize at the end.

All of which means that the first act has a more attentive audience than usual while the second act has more groans and sighs of exasperation than is the norm as surviving members of the cast reappears very much alive, which is more than can be said of the entries that had he or she being pushed into a combine harvester by a transvestite nun disguised as the vicar. A reasonable theory I thought.

The result is perhaps a slightly contrived plot and a laboured opening act as each character is introduced with just enough background to titivate without being enough to form more than an opinion.

Then we have to have enough hints of plots, sub-plots, sub-sub-plots and red herrings to give imaginations free rein. Ideally each character should have a reason to kill or be killed and in this latest mystery we had a couple the audience could happily have done in themselves.

There was Sheila Garton, played with a cut glass accent by Ruth Butler, the Garton of Garton Green, a minor stately home open to the public, who is about to interview for an operations manager.  She likes ordering people about and apportioning blame well away from herself.

Old hands at Garton Green, Sheila Garton (Ruth Butler) and her housekeeper Ivy Wellington

Then there is Martin Cooper, one of the interviewees, played by Matt Fearnly, who is the manager of a local leisure centre and who has a reputation as . . . well we never quite know. He is ex-army, pompous, has an unfounded high opinion of himself  and looks down on everyone else, and not just in attitude; Martin is a tall bloke which gave the added interest every entrance of whether he was going to bang his head on the roof of the low Arts Workshop stage. Sheila and Martin would be prime candidates for the chop in any play.

Acting operations manager Kate Gardener, played by Kirsty Baxter, was a shoe-in for the job, but refused to take it, hating working directly under Sheila. She is a model of efficiency, which is more than can be said of the administrator, Giles Price, played by STAC regular Ian Mason.

He is a bumbler, doing everything but not always as it should be done, while Dan Morris, who already works  at Garton Green has also applied for the job of operations manager even though Sheila, and even Kate, do not think he is suitable. He is a bit of a fly-boy, ready with excuses, who has a reputation, never quite explained, when it comes to dealing with cash. He has been around Garton since he was a lad and claims to know every inch.

Another applicant for the job is Ivy Wellington, played in a solid West Country accent by Fran Leighton, the house keeper who has been at Garton Green forever. She feels she deserves the job as she knows the house and grounds better than anyone, yet knows Shelia does not want her as anything more than housekeeper.

Finally there is the mysterious store detective Jackie Donaldson, another outside applicant, played by Sally Metcalfe, who has her own mysterious past which has links with Garton Green, and a dead father, a past which is known by Dan, Giles and Ivy who recognised her but never explain why . . .

Throw in a big delivery which had never been properly checked off, a workshop left unlocked,  Reg the handyman up on the roof cleaning the gutters, two threats to walk out and two applicants who are less than impressed by the whole set up and you have enough permutations of who did what to who to keep the audience occupied for a week of meals. All they needed to do was pick a pair of runners then decide on a why.

The who is revealed at the start of Act 2 with the why, after a few red herrings of course, finally revealed at the end.

I won’t tell you who killed who and why, except it wasn’t the transvestite nun . . . maybe next year . . .

STAC have moved on from the Swan Theatre studio to the bowels of the city in the Arts Workshop with a lovely vaulted bar and serving area, the venue may have changed but the format is reassuringly the same, splendid, festive fun. To 07-12-13.

Roger Clarke 

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