Chipperfield Theatre Group
“CURTAIN UP ON MURDER”
Chipperfield Village Hall, home to the local WI and Bowls Club, isn’t the sort of place you’d expect to see cold blooded murder but, one evening back in June, I was witness to exactly that, albeit only in Curtain up on Murder, Chipperfield Theatre Group’s latest impressive production.
The play seemingly revolved around a small amateur theatre group rehearsing for the latest production at the end of a seaside pier. One by one the players were slayed until only a core rump of suspects remained. Typically, there were plenty of twists and turns along the way with the group managing to steer a neat path between the drama and comedy in the script – the light relief serving as a welcome antidote to the tension which might otherwise have laden the piece.
CTG stalwart, Lisa Calcutt immediately arrested our attention with some innovative stage direction. The cast made their first entrance through the audience from the back of the hall – a device which gave the characters immediacy; bringing them to life. These touches are a great strength of the group which also made good use of off stage dialogue which gave depth to a simple set which, if one was critical, didn’t really befit (as we found out later) a dress rehearsal.
As ever, the cast performed well with the trio of Heusens – Lisa, Joe and Jenny – excelling. Lisa played Sylvia, the cold hearted adulteress, with appropriate steel and frostiness. Joe was masterly as the complicit caretaker and, in a perfect piece of casting, Jenny Heusen found the perfect vehicle for her undoubted comic talents – the jovial amateur actress, Moppet, who was obsessed with knitting and revelled in hamming it up. It is to her credit that Moppet, who was on the fringes of the major plot developments, stole so much of the limelight. Sadly, however, when she endured a premature demise, the play itself, perhaps inevitably, endured one too.
For two thirds of the play, this was a first rate “whodunit.” Each dramatic revelation – the body swap, the ghostly figure and the dramatic re-emergence of murderess, Sandra (Lyn Hug) – was expertly woven into a script which also married sexual intrigue and some excellent one-liners (eg: Martin’s tolerance of his wife’s affair: “No-one misses a slice off the joint”). So it is such a shame this wasn’t followed through to a satisfactory conclusion.
As the play reached its climax, writer, Bettine Manktelow, decided to play with the audience one more time. For it was revealed that the action we had just witnessed was not “real”. We had in fact just been spectators at a dress rehearsal of a play. It was ironic for sure and a twist that I certainly didn’t see coming but, if anything, it was a twist too far. Perhaps this ending was added on because the writer feared that the play was shaping up to an unsatisfactory conclusion anyway and she would have been right. The motive for Sandra’s killing spree was laughably weak. But to an extent that goes with the territory and by attempting to excuse her own failings, and show contempt for the genre, the writer merely showed contempt for the actors. Each of whom proved they were above the fare given to them to perform.