Devonshire Park Theatre, 7 July – 11 July 2015
The buzz in the audience at last night’s performance of Francis Durbridge’s Murder with Love wasn’t just down to the funky disco music being played while we took our seats, although that definitely helped to create a relaxed and retro atmosphere and got a few bodies moving. It was the unsolvable riddle of the death we all saw happen in this really well constructed murder mystery play, the third in Devonshire Park’s Murder in the Park season.
Director David Janson hit all the right notes in this production that was absorbing and immersive, but didn’t take itself too seriously. With Geoff Gilder’s striking mid-70s set design and the ingenious use of true 1970s-style incidental music, it felt like watching an episode of Columbo. The interplay between the conventions of television and a staged theatre setting was a satisfying nod to the era and a thoughtfully intertextual cultural reference, which was followed through with type-performances from a strong cast.
Nick Barclay as Larrie Campbell, Corinne Wicks as Clare Norman and Chris Sheridan as George Rudd augmented the style and sense of a 70s TV drama, with equally strong performances from the whole cast of nine actors. Tom Butcher, who recently appeared at Devonshire Park with a leading role in talking Scarlet‘s The Ghost Train, was well-cast as David Ryder, alongside Liz Garland as Jo Mitchell. The female roles in this play were strong ones, demonstrating the emerging independence and authority of women in what was still very much a man’s world and the ensuing complications that arise as a consequence of that precarious imbalance.
This was a talking Scarlet production with an edge to it that I was excited to see. The theatre company’s trademark full-stage set design and traditional performance techniques were well complemented by the edgy 70s themes and the strength of the plot line. This play felt like it was pushing in slightly more radical directions than some of the previous productions I’ve recently seen.
I haven’t been a huge fan of the murder mystery genre, although I’ve reviewed plenty of them, but this was a play I enjoyed for so many reasons, not least the perfectly balanced murder plot that unfolds on stage as though onscreen, and the superbly weighted immersive performances from the cast. A real must-see at Devonshire Park this week.