Murder for Two
Reviewed – 4th February 2019
“a high energy antidote to the gloom of both the season and of our current national politics”
Take two actor-musicians and ask them to hold the stage for ninety crazy minutes during which they will play thirteen different characters. Not just acting and singing, but also playing the piano, sometimes individually, sometimes collaboratively and sometimes even competitively. That’s the big ask for the latest show to galvanise the stage at Newbury’s theatrical gem, the Watermill Theatre.
Murder for Two is the work of Joe Kinosian (music) and Kellen Blair (lyrics). Conceived as a mad mash-up of (wait for it) Agatha Christie and the Marx Brothers, it offers a high energy antidote to the gloom of both the season and of our current national politics.
The show’s world premiere was at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre in 2011, when the production was awarded the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Musical in Chicago. It went on to tour extensively throughout the States and was first produced by the Watermill to much acclaim for its fiftieth anniversary season two years ago. In this amiable revival, Ed MacArthur as the Detective and Jeremy Legat as (all twelve) suspects return for a short season that ends on 23rd February.
The pocket-sized Watermill pioneered mini-musicals, with a version of Cabaret for a cast of just eight in 1998, making the venue a shoe-in for pared down shows like this.
The plot concerns the murder of a great American novelist at his birthday party. Was it the work of his wife, the side-lined singer Dahlia Whitney, or of Barrette Lewis, the pirouetting English prima ballerina? Or was it the ten choir boys whodunnit? But all this is pretty inconsequential, since the story’s main purpose is to provide a peg on which to hang the prodigious talents of the two performers.
Jeremy Legat works his socks off as the suspects. Deft gestures, a few props and a lot of vocal talent keep his twelve characters entertainingly distinct. Ed MacArthur as the small town would-be detective Marcus Moscowicz is not quite his straight man, since he has his own share of daft quick fire comedy. The duo demonstrate immaculate timing, not least when an audience member sneezed at a critical moment. The performers simultaneously shot back a ‘bless you’ without missing a beat. At other moments the ‘fourth wall’ was broken again, with a running gag about phones going off and some other surprises.
If you’re in the mood for light-hearted fizz, there’s plenty of it in this sparkling show directed by Luke Sheppard, with musical direction by Tom Attwood and an impressively gloomy set by Gabriella Slade.
Reviewed by David Woodward
Photography by Scott Rylander
Murder for Two
Watermill Theatre until 23rd February
Previously reviewed at this venue: