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 buffet seasoned with Murder

Asking for Murder

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre Studio


A FESTIVE tradition in Worcester, at least for the past ten years, has been Angela Lanyon's Christmas murder mystery – a dastardly whodunit with tinsel and an interval buffet . . . complete with crackers and a mince pie.

The formula is simple, the first act ends with the untimely end of one of the characters somewhere off stage - but which one? and why? and all that other detective stuff?

Then as the audience, who, let's be honest, seem little bothered by the thought of some poor soul lying dead next door, munch their way through their festive fodder they are invited to guess and write down who will not be reappearing in the second act, who killed them off, why and how – and if it helps, it wasn't the Butler what done it!

First entry out of the hat which is right, or at least has most guesses right, wins a prize and a notch on their truncheon which adds a little competitive spice to proceedings - and probably leads to one of the biggest collective sighs in the STAC season at the start of the second act.

The first mention of the victim and his, or her, or even its sex (can't give too many clues here) had obviously left vast swathes of the audience, or at least a couple of dozen or so in the tiny studio – out of the running for the evening's PC Plod award, with the red hot favourite for clog popping still very much alive and kicking.

Lanyon both writes and directs the yuletide mystery and this year's plot is the festive favourite of the family Christmas, all deep and crisp and positively uneven to the point of dysfunctional as Christmas Eve creaks its way through this time of good will, except it appears Will could not make it to the Winter household this year.

Instead there is Alison Winter, played with edgy charm by Carolyn Blamey, who has a thing about dressing the Christmas tree herself and ordering everyone about in an annoyingly reasonable way – which is infuriating if you are her daughter Naomi, played with that combative insolence of the young by Femke Witney, who steadfastly refused to move her boots for an act and a half – they will probably still be there at the end of the run.


Then there is dad and husband Philip, played by Jason Moseley, who oozes whatever the opposite of charisma happens to be, looking harassed and resigned to his fate of not being the main trouser wearer in the Winter family.

Into the family circle come Sandra, played by Sue Hawkins, the long term cook, cleaning lady and bottle washer, who fusses about, deals in tittle tattle and jumps to any passing conclusion. Then there is Philip's aunt Cilla, played with a malicious zeal by Gillian Charles, who stirs it so much she probably needs an industrial size and strength wooden spoon.

If she listened to the old adage of if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all she would have lost the power of speech years ago.

Then there is Naomi's giant and rather surly boyfriend Sam, played by Chris Read and resented by Philip, who sees him as a bit, well rather a lot of a lay about to be honest, without a proper job, and also by Sandra, who knows about his past and then, for good measure by Cilla, who doesn't seem to actually like anyone – so part-time waiter Sam is on a hiding to nothing before we start.

The final murder suspect or victim or person who has nothing to do with it at all is Ian, the next door neighbour played by Steve Willis, who lives alone and, if truth be known, is a bit of an old woman fussing about the place, popping in whenever he feels like it.

Ian makes Philip look dynamic – and after a gentle nudge, all right a hefty great shove by Cilla, Philip starts to harbour jealous doubts about his ineffectual neighbour who could be a lothario in a wimp's disguise . . . or could he.


Behind their innocent, if flawed facades though one of them is a killer and one is a victim in a tale that sees tampered food, a chance damaging conversation in a restaurant, a mysterious daughter brain damaged in a home, a redundancy that might have been a suspension or even a sacking and a damaging newspaper report about one character that had only been seen by radio Sandra.

Then there is a hint of adultery along with a missing pair of scissors, a raging blizzard, a devastating fire in the racing stables and a magic mug of tea where all the liquid mysteriously vanishes without anyone drinking it.

All right, I lied about the fire . . . and the racing stables but the magical mug was there. Empty mugs are handled very differently from full ones and the supposed brim-full mug of pot-hot tea was swung around like an Indian club. A small point but a noticeable one.

But back to the mystery; the clues are all there for the observant members of the audience to see but so is a whole shoal of red herrings to keep you guessing in what is a well-structured mystery drama.

I was not sure about the ending though when there seemed to be a half-hearted attempt to defend the killer and suggest the victim had brought their death down upon themselves which seemed not only a little harsh but in terms of who it was and who was defending them, a little out of character - but by then most of the audience were more concerned at how they had missed the clues that would have led them to the killer.

In the intimate space of the studio we were sitting in the middle of the sitting room with the drama unfolding about our ears and the cast, script and director kept us guessing right to the end and you can't say more than that for a whodunit! To 08-12-21

Roger Clarke 

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