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

Lurching to a litany of laughs

The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society

Murder Mystery

Moorpool Players

Moorpool Hall, Harborne


ABOUT! That little preposition is the key to the Farndale Series of amdram, or more accurately, hamdram disasters.

They are plays ABOUT plays that go wrong, not plays that actually go wrong so you need to have right wrongs rather than wrong wrongs if you see what I mean, which means timing and talent.

And the hard working cast of five made sure they produced quite possible the worst country house murder mystery ever performed, and you don’t get that good at being bad without a lot of practice.

Unless of course you happen to be that bad naturally, a gift which usually leads to an early death, usually at the hands of a director or the rest of the cast.

So here we have the Townswomen’s Guild, which is a sort of Women’s Institute for people who don’t have a sheep or an Aga, and their celebrated dramatic society, ladies . . . and Gordon . . . who could turn a read-through into a disaster.

Leading it all is chairwoman Mrs Reece, beautifully and prim and properly played by Tricia Martin, who as Mrs Reece also plays five more characters, most of whom end up dead . . . or do they?  Her first, Clarissa, lasts for half the opening scene before she croaks, and being a tidy corpse then creeps off stage.

Then there is Lady Doreen, Clarissa's sister played by Farndale’s Audrey who is really played by Liz Bridgewater - do keep up at the back - who shows some excellent timing and sense of comedy in her four roles.

Samantha Bloxham plays Thelma who plays Doreen’s daughter Daphne, and has an easier life with just one other role, while Emma Suffield has another less hectic ride as Felicity who only has two roles to worry about.

Easiest of all though is Gordon, played by Richard Quarmby who only has a single role, Inspector O’Reilly. Gordon is a last minute replacement for Sylvia – don’t ask – and last appeared  on stage in infant school . . . and he probably wasn't very good then either.


He gives a lovely portrayal of someone from the tailor’s dummy school of acting. Stand roughly at attention at the front edge of stage, facing the audience, staring into space, and deliver lines clearly, as written, preferably without much facial or vocal expression. And he shows his own feelings, not those of his character when things go wrong.

His mimed song and dance duet with Thelma (eat your heart out Agatha Christie) is a highlight although he could have been a bit more gracious about having to wear a dress in the fashion show – did we mention the fashion show? And he didn't seem overjoyed at being asked to collect the quiz answers from the audience - did we mention the quiz?

Now amid the murder mystery, which has a sort of plot somewhere in the middle I think - I seem to recall Mrs Reece had to re-write the end when the real murderer had to go home because of a family crisis involving her daughter - there are also two recipes – a soufflé and crab balls – a holiday slide show, which is worse than the play, and of course the aforementioned quiz.

There are bits of scenery that fall off, props that come apart or are missing at vital times, missed cues, Gordon and Thelma stuck in a script loop as a scene repeats over and over, lines out of order, pages of script missed with supposedly dead characters then coming down for breakfast, unaware they are now supposed to be wiith their maker, sound effects at the wrong times and a door that is merely for show and doesn’t actually open - and no one had bothered to tell the cast.

Then to top it all at the curtain call the curtain refused to close, which, from the glee of the cast, looked as if it might even have been a genuine addition to the litany of the evening’s disasters.

On the first night the opening scenes did need an injection of pace but come the second half and the cast had got into their stride and the show will be all the better for a full run through before an audience. The chair scene shifting in act two might benefit from a few less moves though if one is being critical. The pudding suffering a real danger of becoming merely tedious under a surfeit of eggs.


Director Linda Phillips must have put in a lot of work with the cast to have created a show quite so amateurish and slick. There is an inherent danger in plays such as the Farndale series for the production to become somewhat self-indulgent with the cast adding bits or milking every mishap until the running time rivals an uncut Hamlet, but Phillips keeps it down to a respectable ten minutes over two hours including interval and that will be down to two hours as the performance  pace naturally picks up. 

The script is not the most original, there are other Farndales in similar vein and plays such as Noises Off and more recently The Play That Goes Wrong, but who cares. It is fun and we all enjoy a laugh.This is a catalogue of the worst things that can happen in theatre, not just amateur theatre, I once saw a professional production of a two hander with a classical name actor having to virtually play both parts as his co-star appeared to know about one line in ten, and those not necessarily in the right order, and another show where entrance and exit was through a fireplace for the first act as a door had jammed.

A mention too for John Bolt on lights and Brian Phillips on sound who had to work on endless split-second cues. Most productions you can get away with lights up, lights down – interval, same again, curtain with a bit of incidental music start, middle and end. Here there were gun shots at the wrong time, car crashes in the wrong act, telephones that switched lights on, and all manner of strange noises and goings on and all usually completely out of step with what is happening on stage, so no clues to cues there. They did well to get nothing right perfectly - which is what they were supposed to do of course.

The set from John Healey, Tex Mason and Brian Phillips was also cleverly suitably in keeping with the general splendidly low standard of production; pictures slipped out of frames, furniture falling apart, that sort of thing.

There is much to commend this production with a cast who are spot on in timing and have a real sense of comedy. It might all seem silly, in fact downright daft, but is not the easiest of plays to perform. The mistakes have to appear real and natural rather than scripted and the small cast managed than in some style and I am sure now opening night is out of the way, the early pace issues will be resolved as the play finds its own, natural, if irregular, rhythm. If you want a laugh the mystery continues to 17-05-14.

Roger Clarke


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