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 ripping good yarn . . . or is it?

Strictly Murder

The Grange Players

Grange Playhouse


WHEN it comes to bluff, double bluff and take away the bluff you first thought of, this Brian Clemens' play takes some beating.

No one is who they are supposed to be, or at least they say they are, apart from loyal mum-to-be Suzi Hinchcliffe - and we only have her word for it that that is who she is, or indeed that she is even pregnant!

The time is the spring of 1939 with the world on the brink of the Second World War but that is hardly a concern in the sunny backwater of rural Province . . . or maybe it is.

Suzi, played with a sort of demure, domesticated angst by Becki Jay, lives a poor but idyllic life with her artist feller, Peter Meredith, played somewhat edgily by Adam Woodward. They get by with what Suzi earns at the nearby hotel and from the paintings Peter sells to tourists.

Peter always seems on the move, never still, nervous of his own shadow. It seems a little strange at first but as the play goes on we start to understand why. Here is a man, not the man we thought he was incidentally, with secrets he wants to keep hidden and a fear of being exposed as . . . but first things first. We also realise Peter can lie easily, if not always totally convincingly, almost as a way of life. Truth appears to be a stranger.

Woodward is convincing as the quietly spoken painter of poppies telling his porkies and we all know he is obviously using Suzi in some way. We don't know why or how but we do know he is probably a wrong 'un and is most definitely avoiding the marriage she craves. It is a clever performance to leave us unsure until the very end whether Peter, or whoever he really is, is a hero or a villain amid all the twists and turns.

Just to add to the mystery is Josef, their peasant neighbour who appears to be a few centimes short of a franc  and wanders around with an ancient rifle looking like a reject from the French revolution.


Alex Barzdo doesn't overplay the fact the bloke is mad as a hatter and cleverly makes him act and sound fairly normal while doing and saying abnormal things which makes him even more disconcerting. We are assured that he is safe but loonies with loaded guns are never the most reassuring of combinations.

All their lives are changed for ever when a well-dressed, well-spoken mysterious Englishman called Ross arrives and confronts Peter and part of his terrible secret is revealed. It would ruin it to reveal  Ross's fate . . . suffice to say he is not needed in the second act.

Which is just as well as that is when Ross's twin brother appears following the trail of his sibling who has mysteriously vanished during the intermission. As the Ross twins are both are played by David Weller, any longevity of Ross No 1 would have been an inconvenience to say the least.

Ross No 2 first confronts Suzi and then brings in his colleague Miriam Miller, played in a bossy, authoritarian way by Stephanie Quance, who starts to reveal the terrible truth about Giles Hudson, the man we all thought was Peter Merideth, if of course it is really the truth and /or/maybe he is, or is not, Peter Meridith . . . or Giles Hudson. Still with us at the back?


The pair reveal they are (pause for dramatic effect) from Scotland Yard and Ross then proceeds to add the gory detail to Peter, or Giles or . . . the bloke who paints poppies' heinous crime and then our diligent duo from the Yard . . . if they are who they say they are of course . . . proceed to set a trap for Peter or Giles or whoever.

Weller manages to switch from suave charming Englishman to evil, snarling brute at the drop of a hat – the hat was a fine Trilby from Bond Street with his brother's initials inside if you must know – and he managed the distinction of not only dying twice on stage but also the remarkable feat of dying from gunshot wounds several seconds before the gun that actually shot him was fired – the trials of opening nights.

The far-fetched plot is straight out of  the 1930s and it would have been no surprise if Richard Hannay or Bulldog Drummond had walked through the door chasing Nazi spies and perhaps that is where this thriller falls uncomfortably between two stools.

Despite having the feel and attitudes of the 1930s it was first produced in only 2006 and the audience and indeed the play never seemed quite sure whether it was a send up of the period spy genre or a serious thriller, thus we had lines such as Ross's pretentious wine snobbery as he tastes an expensive red  and tells Meredith he can "taste the blackcurrant, but there's something else . . .”

The audience all knew what the something else actually was, eliciting giggles all around and there were a few more lines, particularly from Ross, that produced laughs but no one seemed quite sure if they were meant to chuckle or not.

In the end the good guys won but you will have to go along to see who the good guys were, of if indeed they really were the good guys . . . Directed by David Stone, with an excellent set by Martin Groves, the intriguing tale of murder is strictly to 24-11-12.

Roger Clarke  

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