Wednesday, 23 January 2019
REVIEW: A Murder Has Been Arranged - The Garrick Theatre, Altrincham
As the title of Emlyn Williams’ 1930 play suggests, ‘A Murder Has Been Arranged’ is a tale of ghosts, slaughter and plot twists. This unique thriller that seems to have been ahead of its time features an eccentric by the name of Sir Charles Jasper (played by David Baxendale), set to inherit two million pounds if still alive by 11pm on his 40th birthday. However, if he should not make it to 11pm, his only living heir, Maurice Mullins, will gain the enormous wealth. The location of Sir Jasper’s 40th birthday dinner party? On the stage of a seemingly haunted and eerily empty London theatre of course.
Set on the stage of the St James Theatre in London, the self-aware location adds to the mystery and thrill of the ghosts that seem to haunt the theatre’s corridors. This is only added to by the actors’ use of the complete auditorium as well as the stage. The original production was, in fact, staged on the St James Theatre in London.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that the Altrincham Garrick is an ‘amateur theatre’. I have seen many productions at this theatre, on both the main stage and in the studio, and have yet to see a performance that I would deem as ‘amateur’. With only limited rehearsal time, the performances are often seamless and remarkable, and this was no exception.
Directed by long-term Altrincham Garrick resident, Mike Shaw; he stays true to the era of the play, allowing for stunning set design (from Margaret Norris) and a wonderful plethora of costumes (also from Mike Shaw). The layers of the set created a depth for the cast to play with and only added to the splendour of the production.
The stand out performances, for me, came from Fiona Primrose as Miss Groze, Chris Wagstaffe as Jimmy North and Anthony Morris as Maurice Mullins. All provided an energy and presence on stage that was both genuine and entertaining. Special mention must also go to Chloe Malandra, who made her debut on the Altrincham Garrick stage in this production, playing Beatrice Jasper. You would not have known, though, as she seemed at ease on the Garrick’s stage, playing to an audience of 400. Along with the above, Christine Perry played Mrs Wragg and Caroline Knight played Mrs Arthur in this production, both providing well-timed comic relief at crucial moments throughout the play. As well as the above mentioned David Baxendale, who played Sir Charles Jasper with a level of innocence and kindliness; a small role was taken on by Mandy White, playing the unnamed ‘woman’. Small, but crucial to the plot’s mysterious and supernatural unravellings.
It was lovely to see a female heavy cast, particularly as the play was written nearly 90 years ago. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that this play has stood the test of time, and is still bringing in full audiences in 2019.
This is a production of imagination, never allowing the audience to glimpse too much, therefore successfully creating an atmosphere of terror and dread. Although at times a little outdated, the script itself still resonates with a modern audience, and director, Mike Shaw highlighted those moments perfectly. I was surrounded by engaged theatre-goers who were laughing whole-heartedly at the comedy elements and shunning any foul play witnessed on stage.
If you see this production, expect clever plot developments, shocking twists in the narrative, and most importantly, for a murder to have been arranged. Well done to all cast and crew involved.
Reviewer – Megan Relph
on - 22/1/19